great blue heron taking flight at sunrise with orange water aurora borealis northern lights photo with red bald eagle in flight photo colorado fall aspens photo marshall point lighthouse sunset
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FIRST LIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY ONLINE NEWSLETTER

FEBRUARY 2017

GREETINGS

Down time. It's nice as well as hard to have a bit of time off from being on the road. Getting caught up with a lot of office work as well as getting my office in order after moving to Eagle, ID. But it also gets pretty old sitting around and not getting out for any shooting. Have visited a couple of camera clubs trying to decide which one I want to get more involved with. Have also figured out it's time to get another vehicle. Somehow we've been able to manage with one vehicle for several years due to both of our travel schedules but with Rhonda having a daily job now with very crazy hours (this week three 6 am meetings and never knowing when she can leave) it's hard to take her in and have the car for the day. Made it this long so we've been lucky. This much time off has allowed me to do a good bit of searching and contacts regarding new offerings to provide everyone for some interesting workshops in the future. With that, be sure to check all of the listings below as there is a bunch of info in here regarding numerous new workshops - mostly for 2018 but a new addition for 2017 if there is any interest. There will be no newsletter in March with my travel schedule to Alaska and Florida so April will recap those trips along with some other highlights.

HAPPENCHANCE (ALSO CALLED LUCK)

Happened to look out the sliding doors towards the bird feeders last week to see what was out there and to my surprise there was a hawk sitting on the bird bath. It's just a chunk of ice right now so it wasn't having a drink but just sitting there. Ran back to my office to grab my tripod and get my camera and lens on it. Luckily they were together from having them out previously checking for some shots of the small birds we're getting right now. To my surprise he was still sitting there when I returned so I was able to get a bunch of shots. When it took off, it just went up onto the fence and sat there before taking off.

This was the second hawk I had seen in the yard trying to snag a small bird for a meal. The first was a red-tailed but this was my first sharp-shinned hawk and I was able to get some adequate shots of it. Was very fortunate the bird bath was just far enough away to be able to get a focus on him. Wasn't sure what it was to start off so I used the bird app on my phone to find out it was a sharpie.

It's always nice when you get a first timer but with the circumstances of it being in the back yard and never even having to go outside to get the shot was even better. Was pleased with the results of shooting through the double paned sliding doors. The only unfortunate thing was the both times it flew off (from the bird bath and then the fence) it turned and went the other way making for a poor shot. Wouldn't mind of the fence wasn't there but will take this as a shot seeing as I hadn't seen one before. With all the snow we've had, the camera settings were good to start as I wanted to get a quick shot right off the bat when I got set up but then it sat there for another minute or so before moving onto the fence, where it sat for another couple of minutes but not in as nice of spot.

Situations such as this show why it's good to have a camera somewhat ready to get these luck shots. As you've probably hear, 'Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.' I happened to be somewhat prepared with the body on my 600 and the tripod already partially extended. Opportunity came when I happened to look outside at the right time. There has to be several of these for everyone out there. Now, if only the fence hadn't been there. Or if he tried to go ice skating.

gentoo penguin jumping out of water


BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY Q & A

EMAIL QUESTION - Over the past hours I have been enjoying reading the photography advice on your web site.  I found your site as result of searching for advice regarding AF setting on my Canon 5D Mark III.

I am likely still a beginner after a couple years of attempting wild bird and other nature photography.  My primary frustration is with an apparent inability to properly focus on the birds in flight.  A common scenario is one where I need to switch quickly from photographing a posing wading bird to either it taking off in flight or perhaps another bird in flight.  I followed your directions to set up a custom ‘case’, using Case 3.  But my question remains:  How can I quickly go to selecting that Case when I’m basically in a reaction mode with no way to prepare in advance?  I’m assuming that I’ll just have to learn to be quick with pushing the “menu” button and toggling to Case 3.  I’m pretty sure I’ll miss great shots while attempting to make the change.  Or maybe I should just leave it set on my custom Case 3 all the time?

A couple of days ago while I was shooting a perched Little Blue Heron, an Osprey swooped in nearby to grab a fish.  All I managed to get of the Osprey was out-of-focus tail feathers!

I’m using a Canon 100-400 IS II zoom lens.  I recently added a 1.4 extender.  It seems that the extender affects the operation of the AF.  I’m thinking I should not use the extender for the birds in flight.  Is the extender a good tool for ‘birds-in-flight’ photography and if so, how does it affect the AF Cases?

MY RESPONSE - Glad to see you taking up more of an interest in bird photography. It's such a fun thing and can really test your skills. Whenever I'm shooting birds I keep the camera on Case 3 all of the time so I'm ready for anything that might happen. For trying to capture images of waterfowl taking off, I'm pretty much geared for that to happen. After getting numerous shots of them in the water, I compose just for this sort of shot. Most birds are going to take off into whatever wind there is so if the wind is from the right, they will usually be facing into it. I put my single focus square on the bottom left and as soon as they move I fire a short burst of about three shots. This allows them to fly up and into the frame. You can continue to try and track them but my intent at this moment is to get them launching with the splash of water.

For typical birds in flight, what I teach on my workshops to people not experienced is that the further away you pick up the bird flying and track with it the easier. Wait for it to get into position (close enough) and then get your shots. Over time you will be able to pick up a focus with them closer and closer. This is a technique that takes time and practice to get proficient at. I still toss lots of flight shots and I've been at it for lots of years.

Switching from one fixed subject to a moving subject is something that will always cause a bit of frustration. One thing you can do is change the focusing range on the lens so a shallower range or you can have a preset to infinity where it will start the focus search. For most bird shooting using the center focus square is the fastest at picking things up. The Canon bodies are getting much better with the cross hair and double cross hair focus squares but it's best to stick with the center and crop to a good composition. Adding the 1.4 onto the 100-400 II does cause a little bit of a lag on quick focus so this is something to keep in mind, especially at the beginning.

PHOTOGRAPHING THE NORTHERN LIGHTS BOOK PRICE REDUCTION

Not sure why, but Amherst Media sent me a message with a link to Amazon announcing a reduction in price for the print version of my book. Go to https://www.amazon.com/Photographing-Aurora-Borealis-Northern-Lights/dp/1682032086/ref=sr_1_1_twi_pap_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1484588734&sr=1-1&keywords=andy+long to order yours today for only $29.95.

photographing the aurora borealis book cover

TRIP TO BRAZIL IN 2018 FEATURING MANED WOLVES, JAGUARS, MACAWS AND MORE

I'm heading to Brazil in August to scout this trip so it is a definite for 2018. Right now I'm working on the 2018 dates. I already have three people interested and if I get 6 the price will be reduced a bunch from what it would be for 4 or 5. The list of guaranteed animals I got from them is quite impressive and it will make for a great trip. Here's the list:

Ocelot
Jabiru Storks
Giant Otters
Bare-faced Curassows
Toco Toucans
Hyacinth Macaws
Crab-eating Foxes
Black-and-Gold Howler Monkeys
Lots and lots of small, colorful birds.
Jaguars
Maned wolves
Howler and Capuchin Monkeys

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.

gentoo penguin jumping out of water

gentoo penguin jumping out of water

 

COLORADO FALL 2017 ADDED

A couple of people have asked me about the lack of my previous annual Colorado fall color workshop so I'm adding one for this year for September 25 - 29. The trip will be based out of Ridgway and focus only on that area (Dallas Divide, Last Dollar Road and more) and outings to Owl Creek Pass, Ouray area and around Telluride. While there are lots of great areas in Colorado for fall color, if you were to do only one, this would be the spot due to the diversity. I have been to this area so many times I could do it in my sleep. Contact as soon as possible if interested as I need to work on arrangements for fitting this in after my Tetons trip. It will also be on the schedule for 2018.

tetons reflected in window

KODIAK BEARS 2018

Working on getting dates together for this trip right now but it looks like there are enough people for this to be a go. I just need to hear back from the lodge to get the dates and pricing set up. From my past experience, the action and images available are going to be ones you will love and remember for years. We'll be right at the mouth of a river where the salmon come in and the bears are there waiting to gobble them up. When the tide gets too high for the bears, the seals move in for their feast. Contact to let me know of your interest and I'll work to get the dates and pricing together as soon as I can.

CHANGES AT ARCHES - NEW MILKY WAY TRIP IN 2018

Arches National Park is making some drastic changes to night photography there and this year is no longer allowing light painting and is planning on banning night photography workshops altogether next year. Because of this I'm going to find a new place to do my Milky Way / Star Trails workshop in 2018. If anyone has some suggestions on where you might like to do this trip let me know and I'll get it scouted out this year. I will find a new spot so rest assured there will be a trip. I may still do it in Utah and still go to Valley of the Gods and add Goblin Valley and maybe another spot.

2018 VANCOUVER ISLAND AND GERMAN CHRISTMAS MARKETS

Now there's a strange combination for you. No, it's actually two trips. I'm planning on going to both of these spots this year and plotting out workshops to each area for 2018. The German Christmas Markets and history will be a travel photography trip that will include lots of culture and a bit of fun - along with a possible visit to the famed Hofbräuhaus. There will be a mix of day and night shooting. We will also go to a couple of castles and other sites. The trip is probably going to be December 8 - 15 and be based primarily in Bavaria. I've been in that area a little bit as I was stationed there in the mid-70s and got out as much as I could plus I'm going there this Thanksgiving. It will be a very fun and different trip but one you will enjoy quite a bit.

For Vancouver Island, the highlight will be Bouchart Gardens and several other gardens but we will also take in a bit of bird photography and other activities. We will hope for some really nice beach sunsets from a few spots. The trip is currently schedule for May 12 - 17. Pricing and more details will be available after my visit there in late May this year.

JAPAN BACK IN SIGHT (FEB '18)

I'm working on getting a schedule and pricing together for a wildlife trip to Japan for Feb. 11 - 21 next year that will include snow monkeys, red crowned cranes, whooper swans and some scenic work. Please contact if interested. Hope to have details in the very near future. I'm working with an outfitter and guide to get everything set up so for those who contact me with interrest I'll let you know first once I hear something. Numerous people were interested before, if anyone is still interested please let me know.

PHOTO QUOTE OF THE MONTH

“Photography, as a powerful medium of expression and communications, offers and infinite variety of perception, interpretation and execution.”  ~ Ansel Adams

DIGITAL CORNER - SHADOWS

Currently working on my nex eBook about Design Elements in Photography. Here's a short section on the use of shadows as a type of design element to concentrate on in creating good images. All of the topics included in the book are meant to help with developing a better eye for composition and bring emphasis to your subject.

Shadows could be considered a part of working with light, but the concept can also be grouped in with design elements as well. Shadows can play a subtle part of an image or they can be the major part of your work and that’s part of the goal here - portraying the shapes created by the shadows or to create depth. Another way to use shadows is to have shadows create a dark background to bring out something in the foreground that has light on it. This will be discussed more in the section about isolation.

To show shape using shadows, find a subject that has some prominent edges that cause the shadows to make the shot what it is. With this, it’s best to have the light coming from the side so that you have a good mix of both light and shadow throughout the scene.

If you’re able to get in position so your subject is receiving light and the background is still in the shadows you will be able to create the effect of having the subject almost jump out from the background. This is best done when the sun is very low and sneaking around a corner or through some trees. Shadows on a monochromatic subject can be used to add the illusion of depth to the overall scene.

The use of side-lighting, which is referred to as Rembrandt lighting as he always worked in his studio with light coming through a window from the side, is the one lighting angle that helps provide depth to a typically two dimensional art form. In creating depth, subjects such as mountain ridges, a series of tree shadows in the forest, and different shaped buildings are good examples or in the ridges and shapes in sand dunes.

While there should be a fair amount of shadows included in a side-lit image, there shouldn’t be too many, giving you the ability to utilize most metering modes. Alternatively, if there is an abundance of shadows avoid evaluative metering so the balancing out of the dark areas doesn’t over-expose the reset of the composition. More on this in the isolation section. A good general rule to keep in mind for all photography is to expose for the highlights. While the dark areas might be darker, if there is no detail in the highlights, then it’s going to be difficult to recover these in an editing program such as Photoshop.

In some situations shadows can be the main subject in a scene where the photo is all about the shadows. A low sun can produce very long shadows and these can be brought out so they become a primary part of the image. To bring out the shadows, using exposure compensation on the minus side by a third or half stop will darken the shadows even more, making them more prominent. This will also help saturate the remaining colors found throughout the composition.

If the shadow from a subject reaches across the frame, try to keep the full shadow included in the composition. This is almost like a bad crop of a subject where the full item is not included and something doesn't look quite right. There are instances where the full shadow can't be included such as with a group of trees, but when it's close to getting the full shadow make sure it is included.

snow goose flight - crop tooo tight
The intermingling of light and shadow provides depth to the scene