Blackwater NWR, MD

Blackwater refuge is one of my favorite places.  It’s about 100 miles (driving) east of me, and takes almost 2 hours to get there.  I first went in 2006, and didn’t make it there for sunrise until my second visit.
The 100 mile sunrise

Since then, I’ve been there probably more than 100 times. It’s in the top 3 places I’ve been too (with Great Falls and the US National Zoo being the other two).

Here are a few of my favorite images.

Snow geese, double-bird shot.
Double Blue Goose @ Blackwater Refuge, MD 2010

Great Blue Heron w/ fish
Great Blue

An American Kestrel w/ some food and flying upside down…
Top Gun

A pair of eagles in the morning watching their territory
Eagles @ Blackwater

I have this one printed big on my wall, I love the lush green grass and still water reflecting the clouds above. Taken with Nikon D4.
National Treasure!

Finally this flock of Red-Winged Blackbirds was fun to see and shoot from the Wildlife Drive.
Red-Winged Black Birds!

 

Here is my flickr set for Blackwater Refuge.  And here’s a blog I made as a landing page for Blackwater refuge.

If you decide to go, you should get there for sunrise, avoid late spring and summer (bugs!!!), and get a Duck Stamp which covers entry fees for a year (~July to July) in all National Wildlife Refuges in the country. You can get these at the refuge, or at a post office.

https://www.friendsofblackwater.org/ has an eagle cam in the winter and an osprey cam in the spring and summer.


My current favorite camera is the Nikon D850, and I primarily use the Nikon 600mm.

If you are on a budget or are looking for a good deal – I recommend you investigate these two:

  • Nikon 200-500mm – I don’t own this, but I have heard great things, and it is very affordable. I know a few people who use this regularly and get great results. I may get it to use instead of my 200-400mm and 80-400mm.
  • Nikon D500 – this is 20MPs and 10 frames per second. It’s a great high megapixel high frame rate body. I own this and used it regularly for birds and nature – until I got the D850. The D850 is slower and full frame, but for me I am good with going slower and have a larger field of view (FX vs DX).

Here’s a shot with D500 and 600mm…
Make Me Bend

Nikon D500 – photos and camera info

I’ve had my D500 since about May of 2016, about 2 years.  In that time I’ve taken about 100,000 photos with it.  I use a tool called Bulk Rename Utility during my import process and have a saved profile for the renaming and I add digits to the file name and it’s up to 100,000+ now.

Gone Fishing

Two for One

The camera itself is great, up to 10 frames per second, a ton of focus points farther out to the edge of the frame than past cameras. I like the XQD (?) card option, though I wish you could use 2 at once instead of having the second slot be for an SD card. To me the SD cards are all too thin and flimsy and prone to breaking. I’ve had one break on me and I lost images while in Wyoming. That sucked.

Signs of Spring

Feeding Time

For birds I primarily use the Nikon 600mm f/4 lens along with the D500 – I got the lens used (not on Amazon) and saved a bunch, but it had some wear and tear on it.  Generally I am hard on my gear and after a while I realized that for me buying all new stuff wasn’t worth it.  Especially with lenses, after a few months they’re not pristine anymore and I could have saved a bunch.  I bought my last car used for the same reason.  The car’s great, and already comes broken in (with a ding or two, so no need to worry about it).

The D500 at 20 MPs on a crop/DX sensor seems like a lot.  I remember my first Nikon DSLR was the D70s at just 6MPs, then the D200 had 10MPs and the D300/300s has 12 MPs.  Compared to those 20MPs seems like a ton!  And it is a lot, I can still crop to reframe some and have lots of image left to work with.  For wildlife and bird photography you basically have to crop – because lenses are not of infinite mm’s and you can’t always zoom more with your feet.  At some point you can’t get closer so to make an image more appealing to view, cropping has to be done.

The way I setup the camera to shoot with the D500 is roughly this:

  • Manual exposure mode for shutter speed and f/stop
  • AUTO-ISO so ISO will vary and rise and fall depending on the scene
  • Exposure compensation set to get proper exposure (needed because manual exposure + auto-iso results in ISO fluctuating and exposure no longer behaving like it normally does in manual mode)
  • AF-C – focus mode set to continuously update and track moving subjects
  • remap the DoF preview button to the in viewfinder virtual horizon
  • Set the “exposure adjustment” to -3/6. This is found in the menu at b7.

I didn’t use the DoF preview button much, and I find that I tend to hold the camera in a way that’s not level, I just seem to always have a little tilt in my hands, or my head, or tripod, or idk – if there’s an horizon it’s not level.  So being able to turn on the 2 little angle displays for vertical and horizontal angles is super helpful.

The exposure “adjustment setting” (menu item b7) is used to change what the exposure is when the camera is at EV0, or the base, starting exposure.  I have found that for the D500, D810 and D850, they tend to over-expose images based on how I like to shoot.  Also, these newer cameras allow for the RAW image to be adjusted up in exposure easily without much of a problem.  However as with all cameras when things are over-exposed there’s a limit to how much can be recovered.  By making the camera shoot slightly darker, I have a little cushion.  When it comes to processing the images, I use an import preset in Lightroom, and that includes an exposure adjustment of +.25.  The result is the camera shoots a 1/2 stop dark, and in post I brighten the image a 1/4 stop.  I can remove this and be back at -3/6 or -.5 of a stop if a particular image needs it.

When I’m not shooting birds and wildlife, I change the rear “focus” button to be the AE/AF Lock function.  The small jog style button on the back does this normally, but because it wobbles so easily it doesn’t actually hold a lock for me when I am actively shooting and I need a normal style button.  This setup allows me to shoot in AF-C and then lock focus/exposure with the button and reframe the image to a different composition.

For file naming, my standard is to change the DSC_nnnn to instead include the camera model number, which would be something like 500_nnnn.  Then in the BRU utility I mentioned at the start, I rename the files to be [date]_[camera-model]_[nn]nnnn.NEF.  A file would then be like this once renamed after offloading – 2017_1104_D500_097416.NEF.  The BRU tool lets you save a profile, and I have one per camera and increment the profile each time I’ve taken another 10,000 images since the camera only goes up to 9999.  I store the profiles on dropbox so I can access them from my laptop or desktop which works well if I happen to be editing images on a trip and not while home with my desktop PC.

Osprey Family @ St. Michaels, Maryland

The above image was taken with a D500 and 600mm lens on a tripod (probably with a wireless remote trigger).  I have found that in many cases the male osprey will circle the nest with a fish but then fly away if I am close or watching.  They know, they sense this and within some distance will fly away and wait.  I took a bunch without a remote trigger and then re-positioned the camera closer, with the remote, set the camera to manual focus mode and framed up the nest and backed off.  I think this was with the remote but I’m not 100% sure.  This location is a pier on the eastern shore of Maryland and the nest is ~90 feet from land.  I especially like this image and the sequence because it has the entire family – both adults and all 3 chicks.  This was taken in mid July in 2016 on a very hot day.

Amazon referral links in this post:

Amazon links to my gear

I’m going to start doing some product reviews and write ups for the various, mostly Nikon gear I have. The first one I will probably do it for my Nikon D500 camera. If people use these links they will get the same Amazon price as normal, and I will get a referral fee. I’ve never done this before but know of many web sites and podcasts that seem to rely on it.

In the past decade or more I’ve used about 10 cameras and 20 lenses and quite a few other things like camera bags, tripod, flashes, etc.

Hopefully the blog posts are useful and informative, and the amazon links make it easy to find the product in case you want more detailed info or want to actually buy it. I’ve bought many things from Amazon, including my most recent camera – the Nikon D850, which I love.

Here’s a photo from Great Falls taken with my Nikon D810 and 24mm PC lens.

Great Falls / Potomac River

Winter Sun Angle

I grew up in New York and spent lots of time on the beach, and on the water (we had a boat).

For the past decade or so I have visited my hometown and taken lots of photos on the beach of birds and the landscape too. What I find so interesting is the dramatic change in how the winter sun angle vs. summer sun angle changes the landscapes and photos.

In the winter the sun basically rises and sets over the Atlantic Ocean.

Lido Sunrise

My Happy Place

In the summer the suns sets way to the right in the above photo, behind the dunes and usually does not make for photos that are as interesting to me.

This image uses the dune fencing to make shadows and lines that I really liked.

Lido Sunset
Most of these images were taken in early February, so this isn’t even the extreme.  I bet that in December it might be even more to the southern part of the horizon.

And as a way to contrast the sun angle take of the above photos, here is one that doesn’t include the sun, but instead has a nearly full moon.  This is the same location as the first image above, without all the wind blown sand covering the ramp.

Lido @ Night!

Shooting the ramps in Lido Beach are one of my favorite things to shoot, because they are so common, and can be shot in so many different ways to create unique visuals.

LIdo Beach NY Summer's around the corner Home by the Sea #Lido

The first 3 are the same ramp, and the last one is a block away.

One thing I find cool, is what I show images like these to friends that live there, literally yards away from the spots the images were taken, and they say they have trouble recognizing the location, or they don’t see it that way, that the images look so different than how they think of it.

This last image is an example of an abstract from reflections on a thin layer of water on the sand along the edge of the surf. I started using this technique, where I have a camera, tripod and no shoes (usually barefoot) – and if the sky and light are right, what I try to do is wait for a wave to come in, and then as it recedes I race towards the ocean and take a photo, from a relatively low angle to make for a larger reflection.

Where I go to Reflect

The resulting image is about half sky, a quarter reflected sky, and a quarter sea and sand/dune.

I’ve decided to take 2018 off from sharing new images, and have not posted anything to flickr all year. As such, I’m going to make a few blog posts for now using images from flickr. Over the years I have posted thousands of images on flickr, and early on I was posted every day very rarely skipping a day. That habit and drive was good and motivating at the time. Now is different both for where I am, and where social media is at. more on that another time.

Favorite Osprey Photos

Photographing osprey is one of my favorite things to do.  Seeing the full cycle of returning from migration, nest building, mating, incubating, and then hatching, feeding and eventually fledging and utimately migrating again is so rich in animal behaviors and photographic opportunities.

This is one of my early images (2006), taken near Reagan National Airport from a boat.  I struck up a conversation with a local guy at the marina and he offered a ride some day, and I asked if we could do it right then and he said ok.  He had a small aluminum skiff.

Osprey Closeup//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

This is probably my favorite osprey image of all time (2011), taken at a private location where the nest is fairly close to land and the birds were relatively used to people being nearby.  So the adult female would chirp a bit and then be at ease again if I approached.

MD Osprey Love//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

This image is from Maine (2011) at a great local secret spot.

Maine Osprey//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

This one is from the same nest as my favorite image, where the female was feeding the 3 chicks (2011). I like how you can see all their eyes and the little chunk of fish being fed to the chick.

Me Next!//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

This is a migratory osprey seen in Cape May New Jersey in 2016.  I think the bird is so well lit due to the Fall sun angle combined with the sandy beach and light being reflected up.

This back at my favorite spot and I love seeing the mom and chick sitting together in the nest.

Osprey Chick & Mom//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

This image was unique to me, the first time I had seen this.  The osprey’s brood patch is visible, where she removed some feathers so she can better incubate the eggs. This is from near Annapolis Maryland.

Finally here are 2 more nesting images from out by Easton Maryland.  Both are nests with chicks that are maybe going to fledge in a few weeks.

Wet mom (2012) returns to the nest, with chicks trying to be flat, and hidden.

And lastly, an image I drove to a spot specifically hoping to see this shading behavior on a day that was 95 degrees or more (2016).

 

Happy New Year

a new nikographer.com

For the longest time I have had nikographer.com set to forward to my blog’s page with an about me page.

I’ve finally gotten a blog from wordpress that will be nikographer.com proper, without any redirects or different domain names. Yay! I don’t know why I waited so long but now it’s up and I will customize this over time and make it more of a home for my various photography related work.

This is a photo from Great Falls taken in Feb of 2015, and shared a couple years later on flickr. It’s one of my most viewed images on flickr with over 70,000 views.

Frozen Great Falls