Tag Archives: maryland

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.

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

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:

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