Really harder than it looks

Flying birds and photography.  Seems easy enough.  Point the camera at a bird as it flies by and hit the shutter.

Yeah, right.

I’m starting to be really envious of the great bird photos I see.

Think I need to hunt for slower birds….


Holiday wanderings

Nice Labor Day weekend visit to the International Crane Foundation near Baraboo, WI.  They’ll be closing down for winter in a month or so and I wanted to make some more images there this year.  It was a cloudy day so the light was even and not harsh.  Their exhibits are well done and fun even if you aren’t a crane fanatic.  There are quite a few endangered crane species in the world and the Foundation works to preserve habitat as well as repopulate birds.  They hand-rear various species for relocation around the globe.  Hurricane Harvey did quite a bit of damage to their facility near Houston, which is involved with whooping crane research and repopulation.  You can contribute to their efforts by clicking on the link above.

Black Crowned Crane, International Crane Foundation

Whooping Crane, International Crane Foundation

Thought I’d practice with fast moving birds a bit but the gull population down by the lake was absent, with very few birds flying down the beach.  Pretty odd – maybe they had filled up on tourist snacks earlier in the day.  With the good weather, however, there were several fast moving objects on the water the practice on.

425mm, f/5, 1/1000sec

After waiting a bit and enjoying the sailboats gliding around the harbor I finally got this guy cruising the area.

425mm, f/5, 1/1600sec

The gear is all working as I hoped but I still need to work on the continuous focus system in my camera.  It doesn’t always react as fast as I think I need and it sometimes doesn’t focus on the subject I’m seeing.  Just need more birds flying by.

Hitting the target

One temptation coming from having a long lens is to photograph birds.  Bring them up close and personal to admire their colors, shape and look.  It’s a great idea but unlike the grand landscape, birds don’t sit still for long.  And if they do, it’s usually hundreds of yards away where they can keep an eye on you with plenty of time to flee.

Which comes to the second temptation – photograph flying birds.  What a great idea, to stop a bird in flight to admire how they glide through the air.  Tricky thing to do, however.

Turns out camera makers have tools to make it easier.  With all the gear available for photographers why should this be a surprise.  Interestingly, this idea is adapted from the armament business – a sighting tool.

This device sits in the hotshoe on top of the camera and projects a bright red reticle onto glass that you look through instead of the camera’s viewfinder.  A couple of simply adjustments ensures alignment between what you place the reticle on and what your camera lens sees.  Now instead of squinting through the viewfinder trying to keep a flying bird (or fast car, or airplane, or any moving object) centered in the view, you see the whole scene in front of you while aiming at the subject.  Much easier to track a moving object.

I set my camera up for continuous focus using all the focal points available, use the highest frames per second shooting rate and as high a shutter speed as I can get.  Then it’s time for birds.

300mm lens, f/3.2, 1/2000 sec

200mm lens, F/3.5, 1/1000 sec.

200mm lens, f/3.5, 1/3200 sec.

All of these images are seriously cropped from larger versions so they aren’t as crisply sharp as I’d want.  One of my first lessons is to not try and learn to do this using swallows as the subject.  They can hit a top speed of 40 MPH and seem to be capable of 90 degree turns at that speed.  I’m not sure my camera is able to focus fast enough to keep up with their changes in distance and trajectory.  Without the eyesight mounted on my camera I doubt being able to even make these images so it works as advertised.

At least I have a goal to reach now, really nice images of flying martins.  But I’ll probably practice more on something a little less agile and quick.  Maybe like this guy.

300mm lens, f/5.6, 1/640 sec

No, seriously, something that moves faster than a sloth.  I’m thinking my old friends will work just fine.

Sandhill Cranes, 200mm lens, f/3.5, 1/2500 sec

Spring redux

Summer green has set in strongly now, replacing the spring flowers with lush foliage.  Saw some flowers at the store the other day and decided to capture some of the seasonal color.  Tried a little light painting to give the look I wanted.  Technique works really well on these type flowers with all the textures and bold colors.

Camera adjustments

Most semi-serious photographers love their gear, love playing with their gear, love talking about their gear.  Usually the trick is to get us to stop talking about it all and show some pictures.

I use a lot of digital equipment but when I’m interested in really controlling the look of the image I get under the hood behind my view camera.  Being able to “disconnect” the plane of the lens from the plane of the film provides opportunities for images that are practically impossible with a regular camera.  Our brain does such a great job of interpreting what we see into the “correct” viewpoint that we’re generally surprised at pictures coming out of a regular camera.  Oddly, it takes a view camera with all its adjustment capability to deliver a photograph that looks “normal.”  The following three images are examples of what I’m talking about.


Snap this shot with a regular camera and you’ll get something that might look similar.  Depending on where you stand the corners of the building might be vertical or slightly slanted, the near part of the curved wall at the bottom might be in focus or not, along with the trees in the distance.  It depends on the lens being used, the tripod setup and aperture selected.  For a view camera, making sure all these elements are exactly as desired is simple.  A little front tilt of the lens to “see” the foreground and an aperture stopped down to increase depth of field.


This one would be harder for a regular camera.  The sign is about 5 feet from my camera where as the tower is about 50 feet away.  My camera is set up slightly down-hill from the tower and sign.  And the sign and tower are at different perspectives.  To make sure everything is in focus, and that the vertical parts are really vertical while the horizontal parts stay that way required using most of the view camera’s movements.  The lens and film plane are swiveled enough to get the focus for the tower and sign in the same plane, the lens has been lifted higher than the film to keep the perspectives the same while being tilted forward slightly to “see” the path in front of the sign, and the aperture is stopped down to f/64 so that everything is in focus.


This was the simplest shot to make.  Level the camera, tilt the body down slightly to “see” the ice triangle in the river, tilt the film plane to vertical to keep the trees straight, and tilt the lens forward enough to put the foreground and distance in the same focus.

Setup and adjustments like this usually take 15-20 minutes per shot – definitely not a candid image.  Staring at the image developing on the glass screen under the hood is worth it, though, as you see how the adjustments render the shot just as you want it and just as your eye sees it.

One of the definitive books on this subject is Ansel Adams’ The Camera, which provides instruction on using the adjustments to get the image you want.  There are other sources out there but Adams writes well and serves up sound advice from years of experience crafting images exactly the way he wanted them.  It’s fun to read, and who knows, might encourage more people to try out a view camera for a different perspective on photography.

It’s hard being green (apologies to Kermit)

Weather here has been what passes in Wisconsin as a heat wave, with the usual warnings about high heat indices and drinking enough water.  When the humidity builds and the sun shines freely it means just one thing to me – infrared and clouds!

All that water vapor rising from the ground to hit the cooler air up high makes for wonderful big puffy cloud days.  Combined with all the full foliage, the still air and bright light, infrared is the tool of choice for strongly contrasting and dramatic images.


ISO 100, 20 sec., f/8, Hoya R72 filter, 14-54mm lens

Think of the first photographer who took out a film traditionally used for more utilitarian purposes, made some landscape images on a sunny day, and then processed them just to see what came out.  What a great surprise that must have been, to see what’s around through a different set of eyes.  And then to offer the world an expansion of photography tools to enable us to see the world in an alternate fashion.


ISO 100, 15 sec., f/8, Hoya R72 filter, 14-54mm lens

Some may argue that digital is not the same, that “real” infrared film is only sensitive to those wavelengths whereas the sensor is sensitive to a wider band but has the greens and blues filtered out.  My approach is not that of a purist.  I’m looking for interesting, novel and unique images that are recognizable as infrared and give the high contrast and detail I’m fond of portraying.  I will use infrared film at times, but not that much.  It’s more fun to process a digital image to make it appear just the right way rather than “guessing” how to expose the film and then waiting to see if it was correct.


ISO 100, 25 sec., f/6.3, Hoya R72 filter, 14-54mm lens

What’s surprising is you can’t always tell how the luminosity will appear.  In the picture above all the leaves on the trees are green, as is the surface of the tennis court.  Yet the trees all appear to be different tones, and the court surface is darker than most.  Funny – we see green but in the infrared there are a myriad of shades of which we aren’t aware.

ISO 100, 20 sec., f/5.6, Hoya R72 filter, 14-54mm lens

ISO 100, 20 sec., f/5.6, Hoya R72 filter, 14-54mm lens

Again, except for the sky, clouds, tree trunks and service lines on the court, everything in this picture is green.  For infrared, not all greens are created equal.  Ain’t that cool!?