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FIRST LIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY ONLINE NEWSLETTER

DECEMBER 2016

GREETINGS

I would like to wish a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all this season as things finally slow down for me after five trips and a move since mid-September. Remember to enjoy your time with family and friends these next couple of weeks.

First Light has some amazing workshops coming up in 2017 so please take a moment to check them out as you know space is always limited due to my small group sizes. As a Christmas bonus, type Christmas in the comments section of the registration form and receive $150.00 off the price of any trip you sign up for between now and January 1st.

This moving and getting settled in stuff is for the birds. And not the birds I've been taking photos of in Alaska and New Mexico since our move from Colorado to Idaho just four or five weeks ago. Trying to get my office together has been much more challenging that I thought it would be. I finally found all of my files but right now they're in no order in the cabinets. The same with books in the book case. Still trying to find a bunch of stuff. Then there's the rest of the house with lots of boxes in the garage still to go through. As if I didn't have enough to do.

Be sure to go through everything in the newsletter because I have some specials, the chance for a new big trip to be added this year or possibly in 2018 and another trip to be added in 2018.

For now, the newsletter will still be coming from my old email address as Mailchimp sent a message that by sending a large number of emails out through gmail can be tagged as spam and block all of them. I'll need to find a work-around to this if I plan on getting rid of this account when I move over to my new site build and server.

BOSQUE DEL APACHE / WHITE SANDS WORKSHOP

You have to love Bosque del Apache, especially when the stuff you talk about and show actually comes to fruition for the participants. Our first two mornings there we got the pick of spots where we wanted to set up for the snow goose arrival and full blast off and the skies cooperated like magic with oranges and reds filling the sky as the geese from the outer ponds and lakes made their way in to the main lake on the refuge. This is a sight everyone needs to experience at least once - just ask anyone who has seen this spectacle.

Some very strong winds for a couple of days just before we arrived did cause a change in behavior with the sandhill cranes, driving them to spend their nights at some other places so that did mess with our departure shots of them leaving in the mornings and then arriving around sunset like we normally get. Our last morning there we had a few more stick around late enough for the group to get some good departure shots.

Come to find out they did return to the south pond about three days after we left but some more winds caused the snow geese to change their patterns of going to the outer ponds during the day to the one on the northwest corner of the Farm Loop road where there isn't room for a lot of photographers. The winds moved them here because all of the trees around this pond keep them protected.

sandhill cranes territorial battle jumping
Territorial battle - Canon 1DX, 600mm, 1.4 teleconverter, f/7.1, ISO 500, 1/4000th sec, -1/3 EV

As always, Bosque is more of an event than just a photo shoot. Lots of people show up year after year to do some shooting, some for up to four weeks, but the shooting is just a part of the trip. Half the fun is going and seeing everyone else who you know from previous visits. The people with me kept asking if there was anyone there I didn't know both from people coming up to me to talk and me going and seeing some to talk to. The good thing with knowing a bunch of people at an area is you can ask them where the hot spots are and what activity is taking place at different spots. Our first afternoon there pointed us to the right spot to be for our first sunrise shoot. Other tips saved us time with not needing to go to certain spots and getting us to other good spots.

One thing I saw I had never seen before at Bosque, and I've been going since the early 90s, was a group of deer going through the cranes on on the farm loop. Neither paid any attention to the other and the deer were just a few feet from the birds as they made their way across the field in front of the corn.

As is the case over the last few years, the Bernardo state refuge a bit north of Bosque was quite productive for the cranes. It seems each year more and more cranes are heading here for feeding and roosting. The only problem with this location is that where they go to roost is not accessible for sunset shots. Our best shooting here was late morning as groups of birds were heading to this one field and parachuting down for landings. This provides some great chances for good shots as well as practice for flight shots for those who have not done much of this in the past. We also had a couple of cranes who were intent and showing territorial dominance over others and there were some great opportunities of them fighting and jumping around. Trying to get them in the clear was the toughest part for this.

sandhill cranes parachute landing
Parachute landing - Canon 1DX, 600mm, 1.4 teleconverter, f/7.1, ISO 640, 1/4000th sec, -1/3 EV

After four nights in the Bosque area, it was time for a drive to Alamogordo for a couple of nights at White Sands. This was the first time the weather cooperated enough that we were able to go out and shoot all four sessions. Weather of some sort has always taken one, two or more sessions away but not this time. This allowed us to get to all of my regular (favorite) routed in the area as well as explore a couple more. The exploring of a different area one night came in very hand for our sunrise shoot as we almost missed it and would have it we hadn't found a good batch of yucca with a nice sky behind them to t he east. With getting extended hours, we were supposed to be let in one hour before sunrise, which allows plenty of time to drive back in and hike out to my main sunrise spot. But, the ranger had not shown up and we ended up getting in 20 minutes late. A quick drive out to the closer spot got up out there for a beautiful sunrise but then after that the sky closed in and we lost the rest of the morning as anyone who has been there can tell you that without the contrast of light and shadows on the dunes there isn't much shooting.

We also could have used a little more time on our late stay as we just started getting some good shots in of total darkness with a close to full moon lighting up the dunes and the yucca. The digital cameras did such a good job they even picked up some color in the clouds low on the horizon to make it look like a very different sunset shot.

Although I have some tentative dates set for this trip in December 2017, these might change as Rhonda and I are planning a vacation to Germany in December but I need to wait to see exactly when we're going as I want to see a home game by the FC Bayern Munich soccer game while there and I have to wait for the 2017-18 schedule to come. Hey, there are certain priorities in life you have to take care of. There's a very good chance it will be the first week of December again but it might change a little bit. Contact me if you're interested in the trip.

moonlit scene white sands
Moon light an hour after sunset - Canon 5D III, 70-200mm at 70 mm, f/11, ISO 400, 30 sec, -2/3 EV

 

POTENTIAL TRIP TO BRAZIL THIS SUMMER FEATURING MANED WOLVES, JAGUARS, MACAWS AND MORE

I was contacted recently about leading a very unique and exciting trip to Brazil. If there is enough interest I can get something put together for this June, July, or August and rearrange my schedule, except for France, to fit in this great trip.

The trip will offer two legs. The first leg features shooting of wild maned wolves along with large flocks of hyacinth macaws, bearded capuchin monkeys and a large variety of other birds and wildlife, some just outside the doors of the bungalows we will stay in. The star of this leg, guaranteed close-up encounters with maned wolves, are the world’s tallest wild canids, and we will photograph them in a stunning landscape of tall red cliffs. This portion is for five days and four nights and for most people does not entail any layover nights at the point of arrival. The cost for just this portion would be $3,800 if there are five or more people signing up or $5,150 if there are only four. Obviously I hope there are five people who would want to do this trip so everyone's cost is lower.

Part two of this trip will highlight jaguars in the Pantanal. We would be going out daily on small boats down a river where these amazing cats are known to be seen with the guides being from the area and tracking their movements. There would also be a lot of other shooting opportunities in this area making for a great trip. This leg includes seven days and six nights. The guides have their own jaguar viewing areas not near parts of the river where there is lots of boat activity searching for jaguars. Cost for this portion is $4,500 per person if we go on one of their fixed date departures or $5,000 if we choose our own start date. Let me know your availability if interested in one or both of these trips.

People could sign up for one or both legs but most do both from my discussions with the person who contacted - a doctor in ornithology who know the area and the animals of NE Brazil. Both National Geographic TV and the BBC have used this guide service to film in this area several times so you know you're going to be going with the best if you choose to go on this extreme wildlife trip.

Please get with me as soon as possible so I can start getting everything set up if you have any interest.

KODIAK BEARS

I have had a couple of people ask about a bear trip so here goes and official request to see how many people would be interested in me adding a kodiak bear trip to the schedule for this summer. Please get back to me as soon as possible if you have any interest in a bear trip this summer and I'll get one put together.

CHRISTMAS SIGN UP SPECIAL

First Light has some amazing workshops coming up in 2017 so please take a moment to check them out as you know space is always limited due to my small group sizes. As a Christmas bonus, type Christmas in the comments section of the registration form and receive $150.00 off the price of any trip you sign up for between now and January 1st. Visit www.firstlighttours.com to sign up and take advantage of this offer.

BIRDS OF FLORIDA 2017

If two more people sign up for this trip I will be adding a new adventure where we will take a boat ride out on a lake that has about 50 nesting pairs of osprey. This is a very unique opportunity and one you won't soon forget. This will be in addition to the boat ride we take to a rookery island in St. Petersburg during that portion. Check out http://www.firstlighttours.com/florida-birds-workshop.html to read all of the details for this great workshop that is a staple of the schedule and so many people have enjoyed over the years.

NORTHERN LIGHTS 2018

A couple of cancels / switches to other workshops have opened a few spots for the second session of my two northern lights workshops this March. If you have any interest at all in this trip scheduled for March 11-18 please contact me as soon as possible. We are still at the end of the top of the 11-year solar cycle but as has been the case all the years I've been doing this trip this doesn't really matter as we have seen the aurora every week I have led this trip. It's hard to guarantee anything with nature photography but this come pretty close.

HUNT'S PHOTO SPECIALS

As you know there are not a ton of quality used Canon mount lenses on the market. Hunt's has the following gently used lenses available now!

Canon 24015 f/4L IS - $549
Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS - $1199
Canon 70-200 f/4L IS - $899
Canon 300 f/2.8L IS II - $5099

First caller to Alan Samiljan at 781-462-2383 gets their choice. Be sure to leave your number to get a return call.

PHOTO QUOTE OF THE MONTH

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”  ~ Dorothea Lange

DIGITAL CORNER - POST-PROCESSING MISTAKES TO AVOID

Every image you take that you want to use for putting online, making a print or submitting for publication has to have a bit of post-processing done to it. Too often from workshop participants I hear "I can fix that in Photoshop / Lightroom" I always respond that it's better to get it right in the camera so you know what you're doing to get a good picture and where there isn't as much work to do to 'get it right.' But some work has to be done, especially when working from a RAW file.

This is especially true with bird photography. Besides the normal work that has to be done with every image, there are numerous others that help bring out the beauty and details found in most birds. Be careful, though, in how much is done with the techniques used when working on a file, whether it be in Lightroom, Camera Raw or Photoshop. Here are some common mistakes that some people tend to over-do with their post-processing workflow.

1. CROPPING TOO TIGHT

While it's better to try and get it right in the field, sometimes the birds are just a bit too far away for that ever desired frame filling action or flight shot. Other reasons cropping needs to be done is with a bird in flight and it's too centered in the frame due to the focus square being used or the action is too fast to get it composed right.

The problem occurs when the image is cropped too tight. Several things can happen when excessive cropping is done. One, any softness in the subject is accentuated and the image looks worse than it would have smaller in the frame. Second, any noise in the shot is made more prominent. Lastly, quite often the user crops in such a way as to mess up the composition. This is done by either creating a square configuration or by not following the rule of thirds and cropping so the bird does not have any space around it and the subject is cramped.

It's best to keep the normal 2X3 ratio when cropping. Both ACR and Lightroom allow for choosing which ratio is used in association with the crop tool so stay with this and the image will look natural when cropped and it's then easier to place the subject in a good position in the composition.

snow goose flight - crop tooo tight
Make sure you don't crop so tight there is not proper spacing around the subject - for flight photography leave room for them to fly into the frame

 

2. OVERUSE OF THE CLARITY SLIDER

This is something that is way to easy to do. You start bringing this up and up and pretty soon it seems to keep looking better and better in regards to sharpness and contrast. Remember, any alterations made should be done so that it doesn't appear any changes were made. I tend to try and keep the Clarity slider to a maximum of +30. There have been a few times I've gone higher than this but that's typically as far as you want to go with this slider. As shown in the overuse and proper use in the image below, notice how fake one looks over the other.

3. TOO MUCH SHARPENING

Too much Sharpening does the same thing as using too much Clarity as well as introducing more noise to the image. It can also put a halo around the subject that is extremely noticeable to viewers. Everyone wants a sharp image, but going too far with these two tools will make for a worse picture than have it just a touch soft. When using the Sharpening tool, I tend to keep it at +75 or less, preferably in the high 60s. A good thing to do with this slider, and most any slider used, is to go to the extreme and see how bad it looks and then back it down until the effect is reached where it does not look as though it was used.

bald eagle landing
Notice the white ring around the back of the wings where there is a dark background - this is a sign of sharpening too much

 

4. NOISE REDUCTION

How ironic is it that two of the most overused sliders are right next to each other. Along with too much Sharpening, the Luminance slide in the Noise Reduction section can tend to be used a bit too much. Quite often this is the case in bird photography because of bumping up the ISO a good bit in order to get fast shutter speeds. The resulting noise is seen more with a bird in flight when the sky is the background rather than with the ground or other growth is seen behind the subject. When using Noise Reduction for birds in ACR or Lightroom, remember that it's doing so for the whole image, not just selected areas. The more the slider is bumped up, the more noise, and sharpness, is taken away from the details of the bird. Try to keep this at a minimum, somewhere around +50, so the beautiful details are not lost.

5. SATURATION TO THE EXTREME

Working hand in hand on the Basic panel are the Saturation and Vibrance sliders. It's great to get the beautiful colors of the bird to pop, but way too often these are way over done from images I see when critiquing and judging images whether at camera clubs or on workshops. Remember, if you increase the contrast as a last step in your workflow (which is usually recommended), it will also increase the saturation so it's getting a double dose. Because these two sliders work on the entire image, it's a good idea to use the HSL panel and work on the individual colors needing to have them bumped up. When using the Saturation and Vibrance sliders, not just with birds but all images, try to keep them at a limit of +15. Going too much over that is a bit of overkill.

6. ADDING TOO MUCH EXPOSURE

For whatever reason, sometimes an image gets under-exposed and a bump in exposure is needed. Be care in how much exposure is added as the more this is done the more noise is added that has to be taken away, thus having details lost when Luminance is increased. This is where getting it right in the camera is preferred but there are times when things go amiss with settings or composition. It's easier and less damaging to have to bring the exposure down a little bit but it's also nice to have just a little less exposure as this helps with color saturation.

FINAL COMMENTS

Everyone knows that photography is very subjective and the post-processing techniques used and preferred by one person are not necessarily what another photographer adheres to. The numbers and ranges here are what I prefer. There are times I exceed these but not too often. These are by far not the only sliders that can be overused but since these are the basic ones that are used on most every image, it's good to keep in mind that there are limits as to how far to go.