Windows For the Soul - Photography

Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4D IF-ED

Panning a Cormorant: how hard can it be?

I've been trying to get a decent panning shot of a cormorant taking off, but this has proved rather difficult to achieve. I hardly ever manage to get them taking off in the right direction and there is just too much vertical movement, as they jump on the water, for me to be able to get anything sharp enough before the cormorant is actually flying. So far, this is probably the closest I could get to what I want. However, I can see a few details that I am not happy with. First of all...the bird is already flying because I could not get a sharp enough photo when it was jumping along the take off. The background is a bit too dull when it comes to colours but that's not my fault. The eye could be a bit more frozen which I would dare say means that I wasn't following it as steadily as I should have. Worst of all, though, my shutter speed is a tiny bit higher than I wanted for a proper panning shot usually I would go for 1/20-1/40 but to try to compensate for the vertical movements of the bird's on take off I set a 1/60 speed. I surely am not giving up, though...
On the other hand, I always hesitate between using the Nikon D3S for its machine-gun shutter speed or the D800 which I feel it has a better focusing system in difficult situations and in a panning situation is obviously not limited by high ISO constraints. I went for the D3S, losing resolution, focusing accuracy and detail, even though the latter is not determinant in this context, I suppose.
Do email me if you have further suggestions or comments to make.

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Nikon D3S, Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4 ED-IF

Working with what you get

Unfortunately - or (n)fortunately as I sometimes write - I have a day job and my time for photography is extremely limited. Consequently, I cannot afford to wander far when I am out and about on my spare time and I tend to focus on a relatively short number of subjects when it comes to wildlife photos. Things can get pretty boring if one does not challenge himself to do a few variations on the subject. Recently, I have posted on my Instagram a number of images with egrets, picturing different scenes with different options. I will reproduce those posts here.

When I took this first photo, it was getting dark, at 19h24m in early October. I could still see the egret as it scanned the water for food but the camera was already struggling with the high ISO to keep up to the bird's speed as it shot its bill into the water. I thought I should stop fighting the fading light and embrace it with some shutter-dragging...handheld, though. Luckily, instead of the tiny fish it had been catching until then, the egret caught a nice sole. A quick peek at the lcd, the egret's eye was sharp enough, I was happy...the fading light, the murky waters...I could see a B&W photo.


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Nikon D3S, Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4 ED-IF, Nikon TC-14E

The fishing spot on this second photo was so hot that the egret did not care that I got closer than I have ever managed to. In about 10-15 minutes I reckon it managed half a dozen catches. A good end of the day for both of us! Although I had a nice winter late afternoon light, it was a tricky task avoiding having blown up highlights in a rather contrasting setting with deep shadow in parte of my background. I chose the angle to ensure that all the background above water level was dark shadow. A typical hunting scene but the scenario is unusual. The black and white option seemed a natural one, as colour did not add much to the photo and B&W increases the contrast in the light across the photo. The 1x1 format was meant for the Instagram post, but I think it works best on this shot so I leave as it is.

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Nikon D800, Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4 ED-IF, Nikon TC-14E

I posted this next photo on Christmas. As it never snows around here, I thought that a high key, black & white egret hunting was the closest I could get to a white Christmas photo. Apart from the parallel reflection there was not much going on on this photo. The challenge was only in choosing the right combination of settings to avoid blown up highlights whilst achieving this high key image. My goal: simplicity. Again, working with the little I had...

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Nikon D800, Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4 ED-IF, Nikon TC-14E

This was my last post of 2017 on Instagram (@windowsforthesoul) - one more egret. This one got lucky and caught a big fish. I thought it was a befitting image for my wishes for the new year of 2018...I have got quite a few, nothing too fancy, though. I tried to keep the shutter speed low enough to have some wing movement whilst avoiding a totally blurred photo. On the other hand, this would help keeping the ISO in an acceptable value, even for D3S standards. Still, I could not avoid a larger aperture reducing the the in focus area to a minimum, fortunately, just by the bird's beak and eye.

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Nikon D3S, Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4 ED-IF, Nikon TC-14E

Catching-up with some Cormorant photos

I have been neglecting this blog for over a year now and who is to blame for that? I could say it is Instagram, as I have only posted there throughout my absence here, even though only occasionally. However, the fact is that I have been lazy, dodging the cumbersome task of posting with RapidWeaver. To try to put an end to this, I will post here, from now on, whatever I post on Instagram. I will start by posting, in retrospect, a few of the photos that I have posted on Instagram since then, either in groups or one at a time, as I feel like it along the way.
I have been chasing Cormorants for a couple of years, whenever I have a little time to spare while they are around for the colder seasons. More often than not, I end up with ordinary photos, little more than a portrait of a bird, doing the usual stuff - flying, posing on a roosting spot, swimming, etc. - and almost always noticeably wary of my presence and, frequently, too far away for my maximum 420mm focal length on my FX cameras.

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Nikon D3S, Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4 ED-IF, Nikon TC-14E

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Nikon D800, Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4 ED-IF, Nikon TC-14E

A cormorant roosted on a pole is an ordinary picture, even if it looks like it is posing for the camera in a seemingly menacing stance. A photo of it just as it landing on the pole is a little less common, but still nothing to be very happy with.
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Nikon D800, Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4 ED-IF, Nikon TC-14E

So, I tend to struggle to get something out of my memory cards that I like and I often have to try to get some aspect in the photo to add the unusual to what would otherwise be plainly banal. A Cormorant flying with graffiti as background might just be unusual enough, hopefully... If not, I reckon it is, at least, a curious sign of the times we are living in.

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Nikon D800, Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4 ED-IF, Nikon TC-14E

These are quite active birds, depending on factors such as, I would say, time of the day, weather, tide, location and human presence. Ideally, getting some hunting action would be great. However, whenever I manage to photograph them when they score, I alway felt disappointed with the result either due to excessive distance or very poor light conditions, clearly degrading image quality via lower than adequate shutter speed
or excessively high ISO.

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Nikon D600, Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4 ED-IF, Nikon TC-14E

Chasing cormorants around and trying to do something out of the ordinary in circumstances that are far from ideal means that I have to look for something different. A reflection in the water waiting for the right time of the day at the right spot can grant me some odd colours in the water on what would otherwise be just a picture of a cormorant swimming about.

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Nikon D800, Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4 ED-IF, Nikon TC-14E

What makes a different picture? Having a cormorant flying in the distance against a colourful late sunset sky is a bit of a cliché, even though it might have a set of colours pleasing to the eye. I wonder if a little odd detail on the photo is enough to turn the cliché into a different photo...well, I suppose not....
A moment of group behaviour of a few cormorants roosted on the same tree, early in the evening, against the light of a past-sunset sky, or just the silhouette of a group of birds perched on a tree against a colourful strip of the early evening sky.


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Nikon D800, Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4 ED-IF, Nikon TC-14E

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Nikon D800, Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4 ED-IF, Nikon TC-14E

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Nikon D800, Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4 ED-IF

None of these photos is a shot that I can say that I have nailed it, a shot that I can say that I can comfortably think that it is a decent photo and that I have done a nice job. I will keep on chasing the cormorants and, hopefully, I will get such a shot. Until then, I kind of like these photos, but I do not expect them to pass the scrutiny of an expert, whatever that is.

Looking back at a summer of odonatas photographed with different setups

This year, we had an odd summer around here. It seems to have been short on butterflies, with a particularly short number of zebra butterfly (Iphiclides feisthamelii) sightings and without a single monarch butterfly (danaus plexippus) to report. I believe that these last ones are quite uncommon on these latitudes, but I was starting to get used to seeing at least one every year. I do suppose that there is some sort of explanation for this, but I must confess I find it quite puzzling and a sign that I must try to learn more about these wonderful creatures. In September, unlike in previous years, I only saw a single praying mantis. On the other hand, this seems to have been a good year for Odonata - dragonflies and damselflies. Throughout the summer, I had plenty of opportunities to photograph these peculiar flying warriors and, as I have also made some buying and selling of gear in this period, I had the opportunity to shoot these creatures using different gear setups.

This is the first of two posts with dragonflies and damselflies as subjects. In this first one, I will look at a few photos captured with different lenses and cameras; on the second one, I will be posting some shots taken with an old 20€ crappy lens, the Helios 44M 58mm f/2 M42 (the 8 blade version).

In this first set of photos different lenses were used with two cameras. In the first pair of shots the Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G was used with two different cameras: the D600 and the D700. I suppose that there is no argument as to which camera is the most capable of the two, as far as image quality is concerned. However, I really fancy the way that the D700 renders colours and I often tend to grab it first as my go to camera for every occasion just due to how much I like its handling.

Manually focusing this first backlit damselfly through the grass was a tricky task. Blurring the leaves in the foreground added this sort of dreamy look to the photo but called for manual focusing with the Micro 105mm.
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Nikon D700, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 320, 1/160, f/4.

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Nikon D600, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 1400, 1/3200, f/8.


For a different photo of the same dragonfly I used a manual focus Nikon 200mm f/4 AI-S, with a 20mm Kenko extension tube, on the D700. In the first shot I was expecting the dragonfly to move, hence the high shutter speed and, consequently, the cranked up ISO. This second photo was taken from the opposite side
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Nikon D700, Nikon 200mm f/4 AI, ISO 400, 1/640, f/8, w/ extension tube.

The next set of photos demonstrate how a slight difference in the perspective can radically change the outcome. In the first shot, again with the Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G on the D600, shooting a slightly backlit dragonfly from a lower stance, exposing for the sky and with a higher f-stop number to ensure some depth-of-field produced a photo that captures just enough of the creature's environment whilst maintaining the focus on the odonata.
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Nikon D600, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 200, 1/1600, f/11.

The next three photos also highlight the relevance of perspective by changing it whilst maintaining the subject and the pair camera/lens used. Changing the perspective achieves rather different photos of the same subject.
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Nikon D600, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 100, 1/1400, f/4.5.

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Nikon D600, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 100, 1/400, f/5.

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Nikon D600, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 100, 1/400, f/5.

This combination of the D600 and the Micro 105mm is one of my favourite setups when I want to capture detail and strong colours on a photo. Furthermore, it is a very reliable combination in the sense that, given suitable conditions, it delivers consistent results with several photos that are hard to choose from. More often than not, though, I end up focusing manually by pre-focusing and adjusting my distance to the subject. As the lens tends to be a bit "nervous", on a windy day one can easily lose the focus on the odonata swinging in the wind and end up focusing on the background. Manually focusing is a way to avoid the nerve wrecking slow focus speed of the lens all the way from the distant background back to the creature. This amazing odonata below, however, was extremely cooperative, probably due to the fact that it was quite late in the day, already into the so-called golden hour, and there was hardly any wind.
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Nikon D600, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 400, 1/500, f/4.

Finally, two more photos, shot using two lenses that one would not immediately think of for this type of photography. Like I said, sometimes, when the settings do not vary much, when the objects available are far from being out of the ordinary, the challenge is in trying to make the best of what one gets and in doing it by experimenting with the gear available. In the first shot, a rather boring "portrait" of a dragonfly, I tried to take advantage of the shadows and the highlights on the foliage in the background to achieve a dreamy effect.
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Nikon D600, Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8 G, ISO 560, 1/3000, f/6.7, w/ extension tube.

I have been using a Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4D IF-ED a lot, lately, and I really like this lens. It has become my go to lens for those shots when there is some distance to the subject and a fast focusing lens is needed, such as nature photography (bird photography, basically) and pet action photography. However, it has also proved to be useful for smaller creatures whenever I intend to capture some of the environment surrounding the creature, as it was the case in this final photo of this post. Soon, I will be posting my some of my attempts to photograph dragonflies with a Helios 44M 58mm f/2 M42 (8 Blade version), an ancient lens that costed me less than a light meal.
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Nikon D700, Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4D IF-ED, ISO 1400, 1/1250, f/6.3.