Windows For the Soul - Photography

Wildlife Photography

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

When field rats and lab rats meet

Too often the academia and practitioners fail to cooperate with a view to achieving a common goal: building knowledge. We, the academia, often disregard practical experience as we arrogantly look down from the top of our temples of knowledge, which are too often little more than a shrine to our pride and vanity, a mask for our ignorance. We, the practitioners, often have nothing but scorn for the "academics" and we tag them with all sorts of pet-names. More often than not, there is a bit of reason on both sides but both sides also fail to step forward and cross the boundaries of prejudice. This story is worthy of attention in the sense that it is a token of how stretching out a hand to the other side can lead to mutual benefits. Too often scientist fail to step out of their labs or their computer desks and venture into the field. Too often those on the field refuse to let the scientists come to their turf, refuse their advice or their insights, moved by their on insecurity or some other reason. Here, an experienced photographer shared his sensational finding with the academics and this openness cannot be excessively praised. Kudos to both sides.

Check out Gonçalo Rosa's blog for some of his remarkable work.

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To publish or not to publish...

Time and again, whenever I drove by this spot, I told myself I had to go there with a little time to spare. I drive by this stork nest on a weekly basis, but always an hour too soon and always with the lot on board. However, pulling over to the side road and telling them “give an hour” is obviously not an option. This is a good example why photography is not a suitable hobby for those who are not selfish enough to systematically abandon the spouse (avoiding gender distinction...) and the offspring, to indulge in a few hours of fiddling around with settings, of composition adjusting, and so on. Finally, I managed to take a little time to go to that stork nest to try to photograph it at “that” time of the day. The task, however, proved to be a bit harder than I expected. The nest is on top of what is left of an old tree and it has been there for years. Unfortunately, this year someone decided, for whatever reason, that the log had to be shortened to almost half of its length. Consequently, the nest is now only about five meters above the road level, right there by the road side and as soon as I get closer the adult storks fly away and only come back when I leave. So, this called for a stealth approach. Hiding behind some bushes on the other side of the road, I managed to find an opening on those bushes that allowed me to be within reach of the nest. The angle was not the best, but it was good enough.

This photo reminds me that a couple of days ago I was discussing with a friend why do people publish photos that are subpar. I suppose that different reasons can explain this and that how and where they choose to publish may also hint at their motivation. Personally, though, I believe that this can be explained by two fundamental reasons: the first reason is the fact that they just don’t know any better; the second is the fact that that subpar work is all they have. Yes, guilty as charged and this photo is a good example. Yes, there are quite a few details on this photo that should lead no a “do not publish” label on it, methinks. However, although I can tell that, I am sure that an experienced photographer would easily spot a whole bunch of details that should award it a “trash it” label (If only I would receive an email from that photographer... ). On the other hand, this photo was taken after a couple of very busy weeks, with little time left for photography. So, after such a painfully long period of time, being able to take the time to finally go to that spot and the great feeling of just being there and doing it can probably cloud my judgment. In my defense, I can only say that, by publishing this subpar stuff, I do not seek meaningless taps on my back. If I wanted that, I would be publishing on Facebook, where so many people scratch each others backs with unfelt compliments on their photos. So, if you have reasons to trash my photos, please, do drop me a line and you will get a big “thank you” from me!

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Nikon D600, Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 @135mm, ISO 360, 1/1000, f/10.

A wish come true

I had been waiting for the opportunity to take a night shot of a stork on its nest, but as I did not want to use a very long exposure, lest the stork decided to move, I knew I had to do it just after dusk, when there is still some light on the sky, a souvenir of the sun that has just disappeared. When I could finally have a chance to be there at the time of the day that I wanted, I was lucky enough to have no rain for a change. Once there, I had the stork standing, I could see it enough to know it would not take such a long exposure nor cranking up the ISO so I knew my wish had come true. I saw this shinny spot in the sky and immediately decided where I wanted to place it in the shot. It took me some to and froing, circling the nest, choosing the right height for the tripod, a couple of trial shots with different ISO values and...well, that was a nice way to finish my day.

Night photo of a stork on its nest
Nikon D7000, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @200 mm, ISO 400, 1,6sec, f/22, Tripod.

Stork traffic lane

About thirty years ago, when I was a little more than 10, I remember that I once saw a small flock of storks flying over my neighbourhood and that I had never seen them around here before. Surely, their passage was no reason for amazement but it was by no means common. Nowadays, for different reasons, we have storks around here the whole year and, in some areas, it is almost easier to spot a stork than a common sparrow. One would dare suggesting that there should be some traffic signs for stork rush hour.

Stork Traffic Sign Roundabout
Nikon D7000, Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 @200mm, ISO 400, 1/1250, f/7.1.