Windows For the Soul - Photography

Panning a Cormorant: how hard can it be? (take 2)

My take 2 at trying to pan a cormorant on its take-off. Harsh light, 1/30 shutter, no ND filters with me...one can imagine that as challenging as panning the bird properly is getting rid of all the bloody dust specks on the damned photo... Having said that, this panning is much closer to what I wanted. If only I had a different background to highlight the panning effect...

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

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.