Bald Eagle Day: Lessons in Zoom.

Saturday was kind of a big deal here in northern Utah as the state puts on “Bald Eagle Day”. What is Bald Eagle day exactly? Well it is the height of the Bald Eagles Migratory period through the area, so the half dozen or so wildlife refuges in the area all open the gates for bird enthusiasts to come out and ogle the birds as they sit around with their metaphorical thumbs in their asses.

I for one, welcome the opportunity to photograph an awesome creature who is much too lazy to move around. It truly makes my life a lot easier. Nonetheless, this day still presented itself with a few challenges. The first of which was an awkward exchange with one of the park rangers for Farmington Bay. Basically, I somehow missed a sign that said I can’t walk out into the snow (mostly because I was looking at the Golden Eagle I was trying to shoot and not the 8″ tall, white sign hiding in the snow. Even Still, given my current setup can only zoom to a maximum of 210mm, I needed to get a little closer to get a shot that wasn’t of just a spec on an indistinguishable tree a half mile away.

In hind sight, I probably should have just accepted that I wasn’t gonna get the shot and moved on. I didn’t though. What annoyed me about the interaction with the Ranger though, was how exceptionally stupid and awful he was about it. Instead of a “Hey, you can’t go out there. Please leave.” to which I would have just left. Instead, I got him honking his horn and shouting at me then trying to tell me that I was scaring the birds with all the noise I was making. I was dumbfounded. Seriously? Me quietly sitting behind a bush in the snow is being loud? Not the guy who was laying into his car horn and screaming like a lunatic? Touche sir. Touche.

Even though that was a hassle, I did get one mediocre shot of that bird, which let me tell you was not worth the nuisance:

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After moving on from there, I decided to leave the dyke area and head over towards the information centers to see if they had set up any sort gimmick to attract the birds that way. On the way I noticed a guy who had pulled over and was shooting something out in the tree line that was pretty far off. Turns out it was a mating pair of Eagles. Neat! I pulled over myself to try and get some shots, but they were just too far off to get anything great. I ended up with these two which I had to crop so there would be something noticeable aside from just trees.

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The quality on the top photo is basically trash. Which is a bummer as otherwise it would have been an interesting shot. What this tells me is I need to explore a tele-converter or a larger zoom lens (something like a 400-600mm). Being unable to really pull in on something of distance is kind of frustrating when it’s the whole reason you’re there.

Of course, the day wasn’t entirely a bust. Over at the nature center, there were a couple of ladies from the nearby Hogle Zoo who had brought out a Peregrine Falcon and what I believe they said was a Harris Hawk. So I chatted with them for a few minutes about hawks and stuff and snapped a few pictures of the two birds.

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I’m not entirely sure why, but Peregrine falcons are the most adorable birds ever. They looks soo stupid and terrified all the time. That poor bird was so done with the day the second he got out of his box.

The last thing I did on my way out and back to the house was stop by and catch a shot of the Blue-Heron Maating colony as I thought it would make a decent image. Once again, I was wrong. The picture itself isn’t total garbage, but because most of the Salt Lake valley has been in an inversion the last two weeks (basically the smog has just sat in the valley due to a lack of wind or weather to push it out) and so our air quality has been worse than Beijing or Hong Kong. What this means for photos is everything is a very ugly grey and super difficult to shoot. You’re basically trying to photograph something through a thick fog which means a ton of post work is required to salvage you images, not to mention the natural lack of sharpness you get saddled with too. That being said here’s that shot:

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Overall, I had a lot of fun, even if the photos didn’t come along as I had hoped. I think I’m going to hold off on trying to shoot birds or wildlife for a while until I can pick up some additional gear to improve my options. As always, until next time … Thanks for reading!
-D

How to Shoot in the Worst light ever: A day trip to the Aquarium!

Yesterday my wife and I took the kiddo to the aquarium south of Salt Lake because I’m a sucker for aquariums. They’re like zoos without all the animal abuse. The kiddo had a pretty good time as well especially at the penguin exhibit when she saw one poop. For a five year old, it was like seeing the Moon landing live on TV. Of course, like any other outing I made it a point to take my camera in case I could get some good photos of the Manta Rays (AKA the greatest and coolest fish of all time). When it comes to aquariums, I’m generally worse than the children are, running about and squealing over getting to pet some of the sea life. I promise I can be an adult, just not at the aquarium.

As for the shooting aspect of the trip, if you go a google search on tips for shooting at the aquarium, they’ll all tell you the same thing:

1) Use a Lens hood to prevent reflection/refraction off the glass from the various lighting inside.
2) Be Patient and wait for the fish to come to the glass.
3) Never use a flash. Ever.

Unlike most tip articles I have no complaints with any of these tips. Using a flash with black out the tanks behind the glass and all you’ll see is a circle of white light on glass. Using a lens hood does wonders to reduce the amount of light that seeps into the tanks from the walkways. And clearly if you are trying to get pictures of fish, you’re going to have to wait sometimes. Fish aren’t like other creatures that tend to lie about all day and let you shoot them without concern. Fish, due to their anatomy, require constant movement and as such, you need to have the right gear to shoot them.

This is probably one of the cases in which I really will vouch for a specific style of camera over the other. You really want a camera that has a large ISO range, a high number of focal points, and a fast fps shoot rate. Since I shoot on a Sony a6000, all of these points are covered so I was able to shoot into the glass and catch the fish without too much trouble.

Of course, there are going to be some things you can’t control which you’ll want to be prepared for. Things such as scratches in the glass, or excess scum/water on the inside of the glass can make it not only difficult to focus on the fish (and not the spots on the glass) but even if you get a good shot of the fish, the image could still be trash. Like so:

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As you can see, I got a good focus on the little guy and got him in frame, but the damage to glass is extensive thus making the image worse. I could try to process out all the scratches, but that really isn’t worth the time.

So what can you do? Well, here’s a few tips:

1) Remember that aquariums often have open top areas that don’t sit behind glass. Use these to try and get a cool non traditional shot of something. For example, in this shot, the alligator was mostly submerged and you could see that through the glass, but if you looked over the top where there wasn’t any glass I got this view of it:

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There were also a few exhibits that had things like ducks in them that didn’t have glass so those made for some great opportunities like this little South American duck breed:

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Or this Multi-Colored Macaw:

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2) Look for the janitor. One of the most important lessons I have ever learned in life was something my dad taught me years ago: Make friends with the little guy. While the janitor may not have the authority to let you feed a shark or swim in the tank, he/she does happen to know how to get into and out of places that maybe you shouldn’t be. They also are the ones cleaning the glass on the tanks. Which means if you can find the Janitor you can get some shots through clean and clear glass instead of the smudgy filth that comes from 600+ toddlers wiping their boogery fingers on everything. You can see a real difference in clean glass versus not clean glass:

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Here the frog cages had just recently been cleaned, unlike the otter cages which hadn’t been. Meaning that everything on the otter side of the cage would be a little softer and less sharp. I.e.,:

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3) Know when to crop. As with the photo above of the Macaw, and this photo of a penguin below, there are points in which you’ll want to crop a photo to remove unappealing extras. Be they hands, people, or in the case of the penguin, a giant turd.

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When you see the picture above you think: “a picture of a penguin. Neat!” Without cropping you would see the photo and the massive amount of bird droppings next to it on the floaty and say “Why would someone take a picture of bird poop?” Which let me assure you, I’ve taken enough shitty photos that I need not delve into taking pictures of actual shit. In the case of the Macaw, there was random people and other artifacts that you could try to heal out, but in this case you can crop a little off the sides and save yourself a ton of time.

I hope these tips helped you. That’s it for this one, as always: Until next time, Thanks for reading!
-D

A Short Excursion to Farmington Bay

Last night after some waffling on where and what I should go and shoot, I decided finally to drive out to Farmington Bay and see what I could find. Like it’s northern brother Bear River, Farmington Bay is a bird refuge nestled not far off of the Great Salt lake. Also like Bear River, I was surprised to see that there are parts of the refuge in which hunting is allowed. It could just be me, but the concept of being gunned down while I’m sleeping/eating doesn’t seem to be what I thought the definition of “refuge” was. I could be wrong of course.

Part of the reason I opted for this area instead of my go to (which is the Bear River area) is that Bear River hasn’t been super profitable for me in terms of seeing actual wildlife. I did manage a few cool shots the last time I was there, but in most cases it’s a total bust. And I figured if I was going to sit out in the snow and cold for two hours, I may as well gamble on a new place since I’m pretty much convinced Bear River is the La Quinta of migratory bird spots. As it turns out, Farmington Bay, while it wasn’t the Bellagio, it was definitely an upgrade. maybe somewhere between a Nice Howard Johnson and an Embassy inn and suites.

The bird life was plentiful as a decent sized grouping of Great Blue Herons had rolled through and opted to make camp for the day. Even better, they seem to not care at all about passing cars so if you shot from your window you could actually get pretty close. Something I didn’t realize until later. For the first half of the trip I was trying to get out of the car and sneak up on them like a loud and stupid asshole. Nonetheless, I did manage to find one who was either deaf, or had just won the Powerball, cause he gave no shits whatsoever:

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As I got back into the car and was ready to move on down the road a little more I did catch one just be-bopping down the boulevard and shot this from out my passenger window.

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Since the car was technically moving, I’m totally gonna count this towards my photo project.

After that guy I looped around the road and got towards the hunting area. Given I am not a fan of socializing with sociopaths I opted to head back the other way and just try to make due with the lazy, deaf heron. I did however snap a shot of this rat with wings:

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On the way back out I caught site of either an eagle of some sort or a gigantic hawk, but since he was hiding in the thick reeds I couldn’t get the camera to focus on him and not all the junk around him. Hopefully the next time I go back that way I can get a better shot. So I felt I was cold and wet enough and my wife had just text me to remind me that food was something people need in their lives and we should probably figure out dinner. I was so excited about the crappy, deaf Heron I’d forgotten I hadn’t really eaten all day. Of course that didn’t stop me from getting a few more shots on the drive out:

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I think the color is off on the second shot just a little. It feels maybe too dark. The first shot I think is as good as it can be since the bird managed to blend right in with the wall. Next time I go out, I’ll be sure to bring some high boots and beanie and prep for the long haul. I think there is a lot more to see and explore in that area and I am hoping that as we get closer to February the Bald Eagles will start showing up. I do so very much want to get a shot of one that isn’t in a cage at the zoo.

I think that’ll do it for this one. As always– Until next time, Thanks for reading!
-D

Photography Is For The Birds!

This last weekend I got to get out and do some more shooting around Ogden and make a stop I’ve been meaning too for a month or so now. Now that we’re full on into Autumn and approaching Winter, the birds are on the move, and luckily for me, they have a pretty large pit-stop on their southern travels. So I grabbed the kiddo and the cameras and headed out to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.

While the actual bird populace was pretty lacking at first, I was able to get a few decent shots of Bear River, and dink around in the fields with the kiddo which was nice. It also turns out, that apparently hunting of all things is allowed in the area. This is both the primary cause of the lack of bird signs, as well as one of the dumbest things I’ve ever witnessed in my life. Something about allowing people to shoot at stuff inside of a refuge is what one might call mind-blowing. Nonetheless, I did end up with a couple pictures on my way out of a massive swarm of Red-Winged Blackbirds on their trip down south from Oregon. So all in all it was a decent visit. I plan on sometime later this month getting out and attempting a full day from pre-dawn to sunset in hopes to get some of the more rare varieties that stop by.

As always, here’s the pics:

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As an aside, this was a fairly well needed excursion as earlier in the day my buddy Collin and I got up at a time I did not previously know existed (5 A.M.) to try and get up to the top of Farmington Canyon to catch the sunrise. Unfortunately, due to a light snow earlier in the week and generally cold temperatures, the road near the top was frozen solid and our lack of chains/AWD prevented up from getting to the top. Next time we’ll be more prepared and snag em, so be on the lookout for those!

I did however, manage to capture a pretty nice panorama of the sunrise hitting the backside of the Wasatch Mountains and put this together:

Wasatch Pano

I think I may have gone a little bananas in Lightroom when playing with colors, but at the end of the day, the gold and purple remind me a lot of the Rockies of Northern New Mexico, which are some pretty sweet mountains, so I think I’ll let it ride.

On a final note, words cannot describe how excited I am for the kiddo to get a little bigger so she can hold up a DSLR and really go shoot with me. She has a real eye for photography. Every time I roll through the SD card on her little point and shoot, there’s always a plethora of selfies, and at least two or three insanely cool perspective shots. For example, here’s one unedited she took from Bear River:

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And just in case you want a LR edited version this is what you get using my preset:

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The lighting and composition in this picture are just nutty good. And while she’s only 5 and it’s more likely than not an accident, I’m still proud of the photos she pumps out. I like to believe that no matter how much she ignores me when it comes to homework or eating her vegetables, she’s paying attention when I talk shop with her.

Well that’s it for this one. As always: Until next time, Thanks for reading!
-D

Sometimes Its Better To Be Lucky Than Good

If I’ve learned anything in teaching myself how to take photos over the last year or so, it’s that every so often you’ll snap a shot having forgotten to set the “correct” settings, or change your focus or whatever, and lo and behold it’s everything you dreamed of. Sometimes, you get lucky and your auto-focus does exactly as you’d hoped. Sometimes, a person moves into a shot and it makes for an incredible photo. It just so happened I’ve experienced this at least a couple of times the last few days.

The first came when I took the kiddo to the duck pond to play and walk. I always tend to take pictures of the ducks as you never know when you’ll catch a photo of them taking off (see earlier posts) or fighting, or doing some other duck related thing. In this particular case I was watching one in particular wander up to my daughter with no real sense of concern for its own safety and I snapped a photo. Turns, out I didn’t think to even check the settings or the focal range or any of it. I just shot from the hip and I happened into a brilliantly focused image.

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While the photo itself isn’t much, the fact that the shot somehow framed VERY well without me having really done anything for it, makes me quite happy. It also points back to the intro about getting your auto-focus to do what YOU want instead of what it THINKS you want. I ran into a similar situation regarding the focus the next day while hiking when I saw come flowers and opted to try and get a quick shot of them too:

White Petals

Purple Flowers

As for having people wander into a photo, there’s a story for that too. I took my buddy Trevor up to Waterfall Canyon since he hadn’t done that particular hike before and as we sat at the top snapping random shots, a young lady who also had just made the climb came and sat down next to where we were shooting. I ended up with this:

Taking a Breather

It’s like something you’d see on a poster for granola bars. I did end up doing some post work as a small child had also wandered into the frame and I am mostly opposed to taking pictures of children that aren’t mine (Let me know int he comments if you can tell where she popped up). This is another one of those cases in which things just kind of fell into place and I ended up with an image I am very proud of. Of course, being socially awkward with taking peoples photos still (according to Eric Kim, that’s exceptionally normal) I didn’t think to talk to her and see how she felt about the fact. Maybe she’ll find this and I can have that discussion another time.

These of course are only the most recent examples, the ghosted train image from an earlier post was another example of me wanting a certain photo, forgetting to properly adjust settings, yet somehow ending up with a great picture anyways. I’m starting to think I should just use superior auto and let it ride. Luckily though, that thought doesn’t last long! That’s it for now, I’ll be out shooting some more tomorrow hopefully. So till next time, Thanks for reading!
-D

Easter Sunday Photo Exstravaganza!

For most people, Easter Sunday is a day spent doing church related stuff. For us however, it’s just happens to be a day in which no one has work or school and we can spend the whole day playing and goofing off. This year I took the kiddo to the nearby park/duck pond so she could run rampant and burn off some of that seemingly infinite four-year-old energy. While we walked around the duck pond so she could feed the various birds available, I managed to follow behind with camera in hand and catch some pretty good shots. During the feeding portion I got one of this seagull snatching a piece of bread out of the air that was intended for his other water-fowl friends:

Catching Bread

Once the snacks were gone we sat and watched the ducks and I managed to catch a few shots of ducks either taking off or mid flight which came out really well:

Duck Taking Flight

Flying Duck

Of course I had a few that didn’t. Part of the reason for these ones, was because I was testing out “shooting from the hip” so to speak. The reason behind this was due to a great little e-book I got to read by photographer Michael Sweet titled “The Street Photography Bible” in which he discussed the method as a way to catch some great candid shots without alerting people to the fact you’re taking their picture. My train of thought was if I wanted to try it, why not use the ducks and work my way up. Much like he wrote in his book, 9 out of 10 times your images will be off center, blurry, or flat out worthless, but that ONE will be absolute magic (paraphrased by me of course). So here’s a couple of the garbage ones for your viewing pleasure:

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Now that I’ve uploaded and shared them, I have to say as a side note, I don’t actually hate them all that much. While they aren’t technically very good photos, they also aren’t complete crap either.

After the stroll we played on the jungle gym for a while and decided to call it a day. On our way back to the car, I noticed among the lack of greenery there happened to be a single tree fully in bloom. I stopped and snapped a few pics of them and headed home. Lo’ and behold some of those came out pretty well too!

Pink Flowers with Bulb

Pink Flowers bloom

All in all it was a successful day. Both in that I had a great day off work with the kiddo and caught a some great photos to add in to the library as well.

On a final note, I have an interview/presentation for a local gallery about getting my work posted on their wall for sale at the end of this month. I am both nervous and excited to see how this goes so send your positive vibes my way please! And as always, until next time, thanks for reading!
-D

Explore the Elements Photo Contest

I follow a few people on twitter, mostly photographers. One of them had made a post regarding a photo contest that was coming to a close and after reading the details I am opting to enter. So what is it? Well the idea is to post a photo of each of the 4 elements (earth, fire, water, air), Tag some people, and pray to whatever deity will listen to my call. So without any other chit chat, here’s my submission:

EARTH
Snowy Mountains (color)

One of the things that is most fortunate about moving to Utah is the landscapes. The Wasatch Front is absolutely gorgeous any time of day or year. I think there isn’t much more that says “earth” to me than a towering majestic range.

WATER:
snowy river
The idea and feel of Water is that it is fluid and ever changing. Part of why I liked (and subsequently took) this photo is that you get a sense of the different stages of Water. It is occasionally fluid and changing, sometimes, it’s solid and stern. I felt the trees gave a nice pop of color and contrast to the snow and ice as well.

AIR:
In Flight
There is always something that invokes that sense of freedom when watching birds in flight. I can’t imagine there is a single person alive who’s stared at them and not wanted to be one for just a moment. I like this photo as it catches them beginning their takeoff into a clean blue sky which could truly lead them anywhere.

FIRE:
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When most people think of fire they likely think about the same things. For me, it is more about strength and force. And what could be more forceful or inspiring than when the sky and horizon are set ablaze. Photographers will often tell you that there are only two times in a day which you should be taking pictures. Sunrise and Sunset. The reason is that blazing of reds and oranges will do more for creating a powerful image than almost any scene alone.

I am also supposed to nominate some people as well and so here are the bloggers I’d like to do that for:
Eric Kim
http://erickimphotography.com/blog/

Jasmine Star
http://www.jasminestarblog.com/

Syl Arena
http://pixsylated.com/blog/

Trey Ratcliff
http://www.stuckincustoms.com/

Zach Arias
http://zackarias.com/blog/

For the full terms and conditions (if you’re interested in joining too) you can get em here: http://www.thomascook.com/blog/holiday-competitions-deals/explore-the-elements/#comp_rules

For the most part, it’s pretty standard as far as contest rules go, but you’ll wanna check it out for some tidbits on what the judges are looking for.

That’s it for this one. Hope you enjoyed and I’ll be back with my regularly scheduled (hahahahah) posts before too long. Till next time!
-D