Birds: Great Blue Herons

In 2006 I was new to wildlife and nature photography, just getting going, just starting to learn the ins and outs of my camera, of subjects, of trying to see a subject and make a unique and good image.

This image is far from perfect, but it was an accomplishment at the time. It was taken with my Nikon D200 and the original 80-400mm lens.

Precision - GBH @ Centennial Lake, Columbia Maryland  2006

In 2008 I wrote a post on how to get the most out of the 80-400mm lens, I think many of the tips hold up today and with any lens.

In 2010 I had been going to Great Falls National Park for a few years, and I would photograph the bald eagles up river from the falls, as well as the herons.

The below heron image is one of my all time favorites, of any subject. It took many visits to get a proper balance of light to allow for a slow enough shutter speed, and to have water flowing in such a way that the bird would be in a good spot with some dynamic patterns in the background.

D300s – 400mm, f/13, 1/8th of second.

Great Falls Blue Heron

A much more common photo from Great Falls is this one, with bubbling flows of water and herons gliding past. 2006 – D200 80-400mm, f/6.3, 1/800th.

Great Blue Heron @ Great Falls National Park, Maryland

In 2017 I managed a different version of the same type of scene as above:
GBH @ Great Falls National Park

For more years than I would have liked I shot in jpg format.  I didn’t shoot raw!  The main issue was that the tools I had to edit files made it hard to produce an image I liked as much as I could get from a jpg.  So I went with jpgs.  Later I shot both formats, and eventually I switched to only shooting raw. Using Lightroom to edit images made all the difference.

In 2008 I got this unique to me so far image (after some friends at Blackwater NWR mentioned they had just gotten a heron who snagged 2 fish at once).  I found the same heron and he did it again!

Expert

In 2009 I made friends with a local heron and he was amazing to watch and photograph.

D300 – 35mm.  Standing a few feet away and using a relatively wide angle lens, I liked how the splash made for a unique image.

Splashtastical
This heron was a very good fisherman, and would let me shoot from so close without disturbing him. It was one of those things, if you can find a bird that is ok with being watched, take full advantage of it, and make lots of images! I photographed him for a little over a year I think, and then he was gone.

GBH

D300 w/ 200-400mm w/ 1.4xTC (at 460mm), 1/320th, f5.6.  Looking at those settings I’m surprised at the sharpness.  I have a tendency to shoot slow shutter speeds to try to keep noise down, and to sometimes allow for motion around the edges where that adds to an image’s aliveness.  Freezing action completely is not something I usually go for.  I saw this National Geographic image and story by Nick Nichols in 2006 and have never forgotten the blurred Panda.

May Everyone Have Something To Be Thankful For

D300s – 200-400mm w/ (I think) 1.7xTC at 650mm, 1/400th, f/7.1.  These settings also seem a little against the grain for me now, I never use my 1.7xTC, and would not be inclined to shoot this wide open and at only 1/400th of a second.  But it worked, and the focus on on the eye where I wanted it.  I’m pretty sure I had to shoot a bunch to land it right.  (Note this also predates AF-finetune, and I know it would have needed a major adjustment.)

Great Blue Heron

During the summer of 2017 I found another somewhat friendly heron, and shot him a bunch.

GBH @ KAG

Putting this post together I can see how my eye and technique has evolved. And how my images are now cleaner, and better.

Gone Fishing

Finally, one of my favorite heron images is this one from Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Florida, in 2015.  It’s taken at sunrise shooting right towards the sun. The two adult herons are sitting on the nest where there’s a chick (below and out of frame).  I’ve been back to this exact spot more than once and not been able to reproduce the light/birds/resulting images.  However, when I first saw the setup for the above image – it was a year earlier, and someone else was standing in this exact spot, and I didn’t try to shoot over his shoulder or crowd in on him.  I waited A YEAR, and tried again on my next trip to Florida.  Luckily it worked out, because this is among my favorite images/sequences.

D4 w/ 600mm f/4 – f/4.5, 1/1000th, ISO 100.
Proud Parents

See more of my GBH images on flickr.

Do you have a favorite image from above? Or a heron image of your own? Let me know in the comments.

Favorite Florida Bird: Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret at Fort De Soto, Florida.

Reddish Egret @ Florida

These birds are my favorites – they hunt in an animated way, and have such beautiful feathers.  I especially like their head features, and the way they fan out.

Red

I’ve seen these guys on the east coast at Merritt Island NWR.  All the other ones I’ve seen are on the gulf side, at places including Ft Myers Beach, Fort De Soto, Tiger Tail Beach, Fred Howard Park and Ding Darling NWR.  At Ding Darling I saw a white morph reddish.  And once I saw a juvenile reddish egret at Merritt Island.

Since they’re so rare (~400 pairs in Florida per this) it seems special to get to see one.

The reddish egret (Egretta rufescens) is North America’s rarest heron with maybe 400 nesting pairs left in Florida. The estimated global population believed to be fewer than 7,000, with 2,000 pairs in the United States. (credit tbo.com)

Creative Interpretation

I’d say for a long time I approached photography as trying to capture what I see.

That’s a pretty straightforward and simple approach.  To get more interesting photos it requires finding more interesting subjects and scenes.

By contrast some times subjects are plain, and lack something that would “make” an image more appealing.  To capture these subjects sometimes trying to capture things that are not immediately seen is the way to go.

Peabody Library – This image is an example of that. I was in the space outside the library and trying to see what I could find that was more interesting, and I was pleased to find this reflective can to shoot in to.

Peabody Conservatory

Two other examples are below, where instead of just finding a unique spot to point my lens at, I used a “photography trick” and slid the zoom on my lens to creative effect.

Muir Woods – for this image I was restricted to a single camera body and lens, and no tripod, and probably an hour in the woods.  I made some simple images of the woods and trees, but this image looking up and sliding the zoom lens is one of a few like this that I really liked from the trip.
Muir Woods

The Memorial Illumination – Battle of Antietam – this image also involved sliding the zoom lens while the shutter was open.  To get this result half the exposure time was done without moving the lens.  This is the part where the candles can be seen.  The other half of the exposure time is from the slide, and that is how the red lines were made.
The Memorial Illumination - Battle of Antietam

Peabody Library – Finally here’s a mostly straightforward image, but with a literal twist. I had tried to line things up and make things symmetrical, and couldn’t get it right, so instead I left things out of balance and I liked the result a lot more.

George Peabody Library in Baltimore

The Flickr Purge

Recently smugmug bought flickr from Verizon/Oath.  I thought that would be a good thing, since flickr and smugmug are both dedicated to photos and photography.  It may still be good for some, but given recent changes by smugmug and my own changing perspective on things I am pulling back, more.

At the end of 2017 a few things came together for me, and I took a drastic change in my use of social media and apps/websites.  I quit Facebook and Instagram.  I had been on Facebook for 10 year, and reluctantly joined around a high school reunion event – to connect to classmates and to participate in the reunion planning.

Facebook was fun for a while, but over time I kept finding a darker side where I was not enjoying it.  I was sharing my own thoughts, and photos mostly.  Others shared family photos, life events, and changes.  Yet others used it as a platform to share personal and political beliefs.  Some people’s posts were well thought out, others were more random, and a handful of FB friends had more extreme beliefs and a more extreme desire to be confrontational.  I was really turned off by this, I was on the site to connect to people, not to get what seemed to dominate my feed.  I unfriended people, unfollowed people, and used it less.

With the past of the elections, and the cambridge analytica scandal being revealed, the fact that social sites are designed to be addictive and engaging, even if the engagement is based on outrage and anger and conflict.  The experience is not engineered to be a positive experience for its users, it is meant to sell advertising, at seemingly any cost, even if that cost is “internet” addiction and impacts to mental health.

For my own personal well being I quit them both.  IG was more photo based and less political, but it had leaked in to my feed there too.  Everyone is entitled to use the platforms as they see fit, and I no longer wanted to participate.

As part of what then was beginning to form a plan to digital-detox, I decided to not post on flickr.com for the year of 2018.  This was a bigger thing for me personally to do.  I had a longer history on flickr than on facebook.  The userbase was different, fb was all people I knew (direct friends), and flickr was mostly people I didn’t know in real life (contacts), though I did know many people on flickr too.

My pause on flickr was not so much about flickr itself, instead it was part of the larger move back to real life, non-internet based interactions.  The internet allows for easier connections, but they’re not as meaningful, they’re lower fidelity, they lack all the non-verbal communication that comes from in person interactions.

The negatives that existed for me on flickr were just a few I guess.  There seemed to be an even more rampant gamification (instagram follower style) than had existed before.  Before, “back in the day”, it was about gaming Explorer to gain exposure, and build a following with ones images.  The newer gamification I’ve seen was in its worst form where users would follow another account and then wait to be followed back, and then (the dirty part) where the user would unfollow the unsuspecting person.  The result is someone thought they’d made a friend and in fact they’d just been suckered in to following an account they’d of never followed had they now been tricked.  This is an old trick on Instagram, there are services that will do it automatically for a few bucks, to help people gather followers and woohoo become “influencers”!  But it’s all fake.  So, there was some of that on flickr.  The other thing was automation used to comment on images of contacts I assume, maybe others, to unnaturally have a presence on people’s photos, in explorer, etc.  To me there was a muddying of IG and flickr tactics and I didn’t like that.

Another aspect of photography and social that I grew to dislike is the way folks would want to “get the image themselves” or see the “rare bird/owl themselves” and friends/contacts would be direct and ask for location details, often without a comment on the image itself.  That’s the underbelly of amateur wildlife photography, with people trying to compete and get good images, see unique or harder to fund subjects, etc.

I’ve fallen in to this myself, and have tried my best to remain civil and “be an ethical birder” and not chase wildlife or use bait, etc.  I’ve asked friends for locations, and driven hundreds of miles to find a snow owl.  I’ve now just got a few snow owls posted and have preferred to enjoy the experience seeing the owls, photographing the owls, and rarely posted them – I’m much more likely to show off the owls to friends, in person via my phone, or possibly by emailing them, or by sharing them in print – often as gifts to friends and sometimes strangers.

Snowy Owl in NJ

So, with 2018 now nearly over, I learned of the smugmug change to free accounts – free accounts will be limited to 1,000 photos, and any accounts that are not paid/pro accounts will have their old images deleted early next year.

I was paid/pro flickr before, for years, then the site went all free, then they brought back paid/pro and I did that.  I only realized a week ago that I’ve paid 50$ per year for the last 2 years.  And I recalled that it was auto-renewing with an expired credit card number that I seemingly could not delete from the flickr site.

These changes, and the auto-renew thing just bugged the heck out of me.  And not just for my own images.  The two big things are the free account limits were updated to 1TB of free storage a while ago, so to now completely remove that and limit it to 1,000 images – that’s the purge.

The other thing that bugged me is how this will “break the internet”.  Literally millions of images hosted on flickr have been blogged, embedded as content, linked to and otherwise “used” widely on the internet, while still hosted and served by flickr.com itself.

And not everyone can just go paid/pro.  There are photographers who have died, and no one has access to their account, and they’re work will be removed from the internet.

Additionally, with where I am at for social media, and sharing photography – I will not be paying $50 per year forever to host my old images on flickr.  I just don’t want to.  It’s not worth it.

Flickr was worth it before, at $25/year, when I was actively using it, sharing images, connecting with others, and growing as a photographer.  It was totally worth it.  I learned a ton – I credit my growth from a person with a camera, to a photographer in large part on flickr and how it gave me a platform and a community to be a part of.

The Purge

Last week I decided to do the purge myself, well ahead of the need to reduce my image count – my pro doesn’t expire for another bunch of months. I went through my stream of about 6,000+ images and deleted over 5,000 images, and now I’m under 1,000.

What remains are some of my best images.

Juv. Osprey Hunting @ Cape May NJ

Flickr “Explorer” used to be a motivation and something I enjoyed getting in to and now my “Scout” posters have many missing images in them. Not sure if this is accurate still, but scout says I have had 600+ images.

scout2bca65543dc618a4bc587c77687c9e37210e1c04

Links to each image in poster above (white images are dead links to flickr photos I have deleted…)

1. Make Me Bend, 2. Setting Sun @ Great Falls, 3. Frozen Great Falls, 4. Can’t Live Without You, 5. Sunrise Skimmer, 6. BCNH, 7. Gone Fishing, 8. Skimmers at Sunrise,

9. Stall Approach, 10. Black-Crowned Night Heron, 11. My Happy Place, 12. Home by the Sea, 13. Sweetie…, 14. Osprey in VA, 15. Signs of Spring, 16. Seashells by the Sea Shore, not for sale,

17. Home Sweet Home, 18. Beach Bound, 19. 7th and H, 20. Red, 21. The World Awaits, 22. Common Mergansers @ Fort Desoto Florida, 23. Great Falls National Park, 24. Juv. Osprey @ Cape May NJ,

25. Juv. Osprey Hunting @ Cape May NJ, 26. Juv. Osprey Hunting @ Cape May NJ, 27. #9, 28. Lotus Bloom, 29. MD Osprey, 30. Reflected, 31. The new king, 32. Osprey Floating In,

33. Red-Shouldered Hawks Mating, 34. Canvasbacks!, 35. Sanderling, 36. Blackwater!, 37. Boom!, 38. Air Boss, 39. Day Break, 40. Kick It,

41. Skimmers, 42. Working the Jetty, 43. Whimsy, 44. MD Osprey Chick 2012, 45. Great Sky @ Portland Head Light, 46. Osprey Fishing #2, 47. Osprey Fishing #1, 48. MD Osprey,

49. MD Osprey 2012, 50. Osprey Egg – mid-hatch, 51. The Snowy that once Caught A Fish This Big, 52. The Snowy that once Caught A Fish This Big, 53. Incoming Angel, 54. Great Egret, 55. Snowy Egret @ Fort Myers Beach, FL, 56. Puffy,

57. Northern Harrier – Pausing for a look, 58. Willet @ Chincoteague NWR, VA, 59. 2011 Osprey Chick, 60. DCA Landing 2 of 2, 61. Luke +2, 62. Luke +2, 63. Blast Off!, 64. MD Osprey….,

65. Smile 😀, 66. Luke, 67. Cooper’s Hawk, 68. Osprey Fishing, 69. PHL, 70. PHL, 71. Luke in Fall, 72. Cape May Banding Demo / CMBO

But I also deleted a lot of memories, thousands of comments, and I have broken my own blogs and shared images.

Why?

I’ve moved on.

Flickr is not permanent.

I’m not permanent.

I’d don’t really care.

It didn’t feel like the changes to flickr were done in a way that was true to the past of the site.  I get that they need to make money from the site.

They’ve changed, I’ve changed.  We’re breaking up.  Lol.  Sort of.  I’ve left almost 1,000 images on flickr, and this will possibly serve as a way to keep a somewhat curated set of images on the site.

flickr1.JPG

Some of the hardest images to delete were the ones of the various zoo animals.  Many of them have died.  But my flickr stream is not the archive for their life, and sadly hundreds if not thousands of those memories are no longer shared.

It is only partly about the money, $50 isn’t that much – I have 10’s thousands in gear, and the cost of a single relatively cheap lens could cover 20 years (ie $1,000).  But I’ve moved on, flickr changed, and I don’t want to be forced to do anything.

New Blog

What I have now is this new blog.  I pay for this, and it is not permanent.

With the new year (2019) approaching I plan to share again, photos, drawings, and writing again.

Until next time.

Osprey Drawing

p.s.

There are images such as this one, that are very meaningful for me, no one else knows what this image represented but me. I just left one clue in the tags. There were so many moments captured and experiences remembered by the images I had shared on flickr. I could look at pretty much every image and know the what, the where, the who and all the rest of what was going on then in my life and with those I was close to.

That’s probably the saddest part for me, is to have purged those images, the history of comments and interactions with so many.

Thankfully I have the images still for myself (ie not deleted, they’re on my hdd).

But there is something lost.

Untitled

Migrating Birds in Cape May NJ

Visiting Cape May is always fun.  In the Fall the birds migrate through by the thousands.
The flock of Black Skimmers are along the beach near the Arcade or west of there often.

Black Skimmers

A storm passing at sunset made for a dramatic image.

Stormy Sunset

This tiny little turtle was crossing the path at The Nature Conservancy’s Meadows – I was struck buy his tiny form, and potential big future ahead – if he could survive the challenges and overcome all the obstacles.

tell me about Your struggle

Another creature with challenges ahead was this young Osprey.  It was hunting for and catching small fish in the patch of ocean behind the meadows / east of the State Park.

Juv. Osprey @ Cape May NJ

This image was pleasing to me – it shows the power of the ocean, the unity of the skimmer flock, their joint fate.

Black Skimmers and Surf

The hawk banding demos are good times to see the birds up close and some times get a good image.  This was taken on a Saturday at 11:30am at The Meadows where they do a demo / talk.  There are also demos at the State Park next to the hawk watch platform, on  Saturday and Sunday at 10am (roughly September and October).

Cooper's Hawk

See more image in my Flickr set – Cape May NJ.

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: