Thursday, April 23, 2009

Songbird Extravaganza !

My stepfather Tom and I are currently photographing birds together in northern Texas. Today started out a bust. We were up at 5:30am and on location at dawn, but the birds were not cooperating. Our luck began changing mid-morning once we figured out the best shooting techniques. The rest of the day was exceptional - it turnd out to be one of the most productive days of songbird photography of my life.

Tom is a videographer and when we're out together we alternate shooting because the fill flash from my camera ruins his video. I typically get on a bird before him and fire off a few shots. He needs 7 seconds footage and tells me when he's about to film, so I stop flashing. I was so excited about the composition on the gnatchatcher (first photo below) that when he said "don't shoot' my brain heard "go shoot". I fired away, captured the image, and ended up flushing the bird. As a result, he mised the shot. Sorry Tom!

Photo 1: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
EOS 1DsIII; 500/4IS & 1.4x teleconvertor; 580EX fill flash

Photo 2: Northern Parula warbler
EOS 1DsIII; 500/4IS & 1.4x teleconvertor; 580EX fill flash
Photo 3: Prothonotary Warbler
EOS 1DsIII; 500/4IS & 1.4x teleconvertor; 580EX fill flash

Photo 4: Prothonotary Warbler
EOS 1DsIII; 500/4IS & 1.4x teleconvertor; 580EX fill flash

Monday, April 20, 2009

6 month trip update

Laughing Gull pair courting
EOS 50D; 500/4 IS & 1.4x TC
ISO 200; 1/500 @ f/8

As of today, I've been on the road for 6 months. What a blast the trip has been with many extraordinary experiences, interesting people, and some of the best photos I’ve ever shot. I thought you might like to hear some stats and stories from along the way.

Before I get into it, let me say a huge thanks to all of you for checking out the blog…. and especially those who've taken time to post or send a comment. THANKS!

Stats since I started the trip on October 20, 2008:

  • 40,190 km driven
  • 45,500 photos taken
  • 558 km walked carrying my camera gear
  • 2-3 days – average time between showers
  • 6 days - longest time wearing the same t-shirt
  • 358 species of birds seen
  • 8,174 different blog visitors
  • climbing a landslide: most dangerous thing I've done (aside from driving)
  • $141/gallon – cheapest gas I found (Tucson in December)
  • favorite towns: Portal, Arizona and Mendocino, California
  • favorite spots: giant redwood forests of northern California & Death Valley, California
  • top trip songs: The Unforgettable Fire (U2), Big Casino (Jimmy Eat World)
  • trip album: Viva la Vida (Coldplay)
  • worst sleep: Radisson Hotel, Phoenix (domestic dispute outside my room; they set off the fire alarm at 2:30am)
  • best park staff: South Llano River State Park, Texas
  • cheapest bottle of wine consumed: Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon ($2)
  • celebrity encounters: Hulk Hogan passed me while driving
  • 1 camera destroyed to get Canvasback duck photo (Canon G9)
  • Sierra Nevada Pale Ale - best beer

I'll be back in Ontario in just over a week and look forward to touching bases with friends and family, as well as shooting on my home turf, as the journey continues.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Bunting Bonanza

Another fantastic day, surpassing yesterday due to brighter overcast conditions which allowed for faster shutter speeds. Buntings were the stars of the show.... amazingly cooperative, so I spent the entire day photographing them. I shot well over a thousand photos and ended up with a few that I'm very happy with!

Photo 1: Indigo Bunting fanning tail
EOS 1DsIII; 500/4IS & 2x TC; 580EX flash
ISO 400; 1/400s @ f/8; fill flash at -1 2/3

Photo 1: Painted Bunting on grass
EOS 1DsIII; 500/4IS & 2x TC; 580EX flash
ISO 640; 1/320s @ f/8; fill flash at -1 2/3

Photo 3: Common Yellowthroat
EOS 1DsIII; 500/4IS & 2x TC; 580EX flash
ISO 400; 1/50s @ f/8; fill flash at -1 2/3

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Texas coast migrants

Indigo Bunting (male)
EOS 1DsIII; 500/4IS & 1.4x TC
ISO 800; 1/250s @ f/5.6
The last few days rank among the best migrant shooting I've ever experienced. The most colorful characters - Indigo Buntings and Scarlet Tanagers - were so cooperative! The light was dreary, the color saturation rich, and the shutter speeds painfully slow. I shot at least a thousand images today. Most were blurry, but the few that worked out are gems..... best I've shot of these species. I'm crossing my fingers that the next few days are as half as good!

Warbling Vireo
EOS 1DsIII; 500/4IS & 1.4x TC
ISO 400; 1/640s @ f/5.6

Scarlet Tanager (male)
EOS 1DsIII; 500/4IS & 2x TC
ISO 800; 1/50s @ f/8

Scarlet Tanager (male)
EOS 1DsIII; 500/4IS & 2x TC
ISO 640; 1/40s @ f/8

Dickcissel (male)
EOS 1DsIII; 500/4IS & 2x TC
ISO 640; 1/100s @ f/8

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hooded Warbler

Hooded Warbler (male) near Port Aransas, Texas
EOS 1DSIII; 500/4IS & 2X teleconvertor; 580EX flash with Better Beamer
1/50s @ f/8; fill flash at - 1 2/3

After more than 10 years of unsuccessfully trying to photograph Hooded Warblers during spring migration in Ontario, I've had incredible luck with them here in Texas.

The past couple days on the central Texas coast have been spectacular for both songbird and waterbird photography. I've added at least a dozen species to my collection.

I'm camping on the beach right now and have to ration my power usage (batteries are running low) so will keep this a brief post. Will post more photos soon when I'm in a hotel.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Northern Cardinal

Photos of Northern Cardinals are perpetually good sellers. No surprise, this a beautiful and familiar bird to people across much of North America. I photographed these in central Texas yesterday, using a 1DsIII with a 500/4IS lens & 2x convertor. I chose to use this camera body over the 50D because I was working at fairly close range with birds landing on predictable perches (so I could prefocus). In low light - like these were shot in - the file quality of the 1DsIII appears much better than the 50D.

I sat virtually motionless on the ground near the feeding station for 6 hours to get these and several other species that were coming in. Unfortunately at the end of the day I found a tick crawling up my shorts and thankfully removed it before it had a chance to embed itself. While I admire the survival adaptations of ticks, I prefer not to be the parisitized host!

Northern Cardinal (male)

Northern Cardinal (female)

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Birds - Central Texas

Just a quick post before I crash out... I'm fried after a scorching day here in central Texas!

I've been photographing from a blind for the past couple days, trying to improve my coverage of a few species as well as adding some new ones to my collection. It's been extremely dry here this winter, so the birds are easily attracted to water fountains/drips.

This has been a good opportunity to put the 50D body through the paces, using it with the 500/4IS and a 1.4x teleconvertor. I've shot thousands of photos, but the keeper ratio for this kind of shooting is painfully low. Here are a few I managed to process so far....

Wild Turkey head

Northern Cardinal

Lincoln's Sparrow

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Bird season approaches!

Great weather and cooperative birds have been keeping me busy lately, hence the lack of blog posts! With spring fast approaching, I've been shifting to photographing birds. April and May are a marathon of songbird photography for me.... starting in Texas and following the migration north to Ontario.

Songbird photography is tricky.... the birds are small and rarely sit still. Capturing sharp, well-framed photos requires being fast and efficient with a long lens. I get rusty at this over the winter and have to tune up my technique each spring, which is what I've been up to lately. I've been using my new 50D body and have found it to be excellent for bird photography. I'm most impressed with the incredibly quick and accurate autofocus, as well as the fast frame rate. It blows away my 1DsIII body for shooting birds. A downside is the 50D files have more noise (digital grain) than 1DsIII files, especially in low light. This doesn't surprise me, the 50D is way less expensive and has a smaller sensor. Nevertheless, the files are still pretty good - very publishable - and I expect to use this body for the majority of my songbird photography this spring.

Here are a few recent bird photos.

Photo 1: White Pelican landing - Salton Sea, California
EOS 50D; 500/4IS & 1.4X teleconvertor
Exposure: 1/1600 @ f/5.6; ISO 250

Photo 2: Pyrrhuloxia on cactus - Tucson, Arizona
EOS 50D; 500/4IS & 1.4X teleconvertor
Exposure: 1/1000 @ f/5.6; ISO 200; fill flash at -1 2/3

Photo 3: Black-throated Gray Warbler - Madera Canyon, Arizona
EOS 50D; 500/4IS & 1.4X teleconvertor; 580EX II flash & Better Beamer
Exposure: 1/60 @ f/5.6; ISO 250; fill flash at -1 2/3

Photo 4: Townsend's Warbler - Cave Creek, Arizona
EOS 50D; 500/4IS & 1.4X teleconvertor
Exposure: 1/160 @ f/5.6; ISO 400

Photo 5: Yellow-eyed Junco - Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona
EOS 50D; 500/4IS & 1.4X teleconvertor; 580EX II flash & Better Beamer
Exposure: 1/60 @ f/5.6; ISO 400; fill flash at -2