Saturday, December 12, 2009

Back to basics at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

1) I've been spending some time at the local San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine. Winter time is a great time for nature photography due to the great influx of migratory birds here to southern california. The fresh air and sound of the wind blowing through the reeds does wonders to relax the weary soul after a long week at the office. It was also good to get back to my roots which is wildlife/nature photography. For this 1st shot, I present an American Avocet. My friend Tom was generous enough to let me borrow his Canon 5D Mark II for a few days. I took it for a test spin and was quite impressed. This was the best shot from my brief outing this his camera.

2) The rest of the photos in this series were taken with my old trusty Canon 20D. Here we see one of the local Bobcats which call San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary home. This photo was taken about 2 miles from my home. It always thrills me to find wildlife in such a suburban setting.

3) A close up shot. I always try to get a tight shot of my subject. It really brings the viewer into the shot. It creates a certain intimacy with the subject instead of just seeing it off in the distance. This requires expensive telephoto lenses. Be warned, wildlife/bird photography is not a cheap hobby.

4) The best time for nature photography is either the 1st morning light or the late evening/sunset light. This is referred to the golden light. It gives the pictures a warm color tone. Plus depending on how you position yourself in relation to the light on your subject, you will be able to get a more even exposure of your subject. This helps to avoid the harsh light and shadows you will get shooting around mid-day. I shot this Long Billed Curlew right before sunset.

5) When you photograph a bird in flight, you are capturing it in it's most natural and beautiful environment. It is quite a challenge to get a sharp focus lock on such a small target zooming through the air. I use a Canon 400mm f5.6 lens which was designed so perfectly for photographing birds in flight. It just snaps into focus instantly. It's light enough to shoot hand held without a tripod. This lens is sharp wide open which gives you plenty of light to keep your shutter speed up to freeze the motion. Without a doubt, it is my favorite lens out of my collection. Here we have a Northern Shoveler.

6) Can anyone spot the Burrowing Owl in this shot? This was a first for me. I have never photographed an owl before, let alone a Burrowing Owl. It is the only owl that digs a hole in the ground to nest. This little guy was about the size of plump orange. This shot cracks me up seeing it peeking out from behind the rock pile.

7) Here is a closer shot of it. I didn't want to spook it, so I stayed a respectful distance away.

8) Even though the focus of wildlife photography is on the subject, you should not forget the background. The background is like a canvas on which you want to showcase your particular subject. I try to keep my backgrounds as clean and non-distracting as possible. When you shoot with a telephoto lens with the aperture wide open, you can often get clean shots like this where the background is blurred nicely. I took this shot of a Say's Phoebe on the side of a walkway between 2 ponds. The green came from a patch of grass which was growing on the opposite bank of the pond. Even though the subject is not as sharp as I would have liked, I kept the shot because I really dig the clean, soft, water color green background. I thought it made for a peaceful composition.

9) When the temperature drops during winter time, the Cedar Waxwings from the local mountains will come down and pay us a visit. They feast on the winter berries and will usually be gone in about a week. A whole flock will descend upon a berry bush and pick it clean.

10 ) This is a classic Cedar Waxwing shot. After they pick the berry they will flip it into the air to swallow down. You can also see a 2nd Cedar Waxwing in the back in mid bite. It would have been awesome if I had caught them with both berries in mid air. Haha.

11) Sometimes when the action is fast and furious, I just hammer down on the shutter button and let loose with the 5 frames per second. When I get home and review my shots on the computer, sometimes you get lucky and catch an interesting action shot like this one. One bird is coming in for a landing, while another one is taking off with a berry in its beak.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Madison's Photo Shoot

Today, I had the pleasure of doing a photo shoot with the adorable Madison. Her mom (Bic) is my cousin. I asked Bic to design my upcoming photography portfolio website. In exchange, I was more than happy to photograph her family. It was a fun shoot and Madison was very cooperative. Normally shooting babies this age can be very challenging because they won't sit still or they will be looking in the wrong direction. At least, this has been my experience from trying to photograph my kids for our annual Xmas card. Hah! Madison however, was very comfortable in front of the camera and smiled easily for me.

1) Let's start with a simple natural shot. We set up a mini studio in their upstairs bedroom. We had great light coming in from the window and we just threw a white sheet on the bed. Babies have such nice skin tones. Look at those huge eyes.

2) Here's a peek at Madison's Halloween costume, a Ladybug. Madison is currently teething and enjoys a nice afternoon snack consisting of her shoe. Munch! Munch!

3) I asked Madison to strike an elegant pose for me. She gave me the classic "looking over my shoulder while pushing a wall" modeling pose. What a natural. I'm very happy with the dress choice. The colors and patterns made for great shots.

4) I like the sharp focus on the eye in this shot. It really pulls you in. That is critical for any type of portrait shot. The eye (at least the closest one to the viewer) must be in focus for the shot to be usable. I always shoot with my camera set to center point focus only. Even though modern day dslr cameras a very smart and are suppose to employ predictive focusing algorithms, there is always room for error. By using the center point focus only, I am basically manually pointing the camera to focus exactly on the spot I want. I learned this while shooting birds in flight. The camera focus so much faster and successfully when you use the center point focus only. This is important when using telephoto lenses or wide open primes which have very shallow depth of fields. If the camera miss focuses on something in front or behind of the eye this renders the eye out of focus and the shot is worthless. No amount of photoshop can fix that. When you put the center focus point on the subjects eye, it gives the camera a nice contrasty area to focus lock on. You will find that you get more in focus usable shots this way. You can always focus lock on the eye first and then adjust the framing of the shot afterward if need be.

5) What a funny expression. Not sure what she was thinking about.

6) I got my 2 front teeth! I took this shot in the shade of the backyard. The green grass and surrounding lush green foliage gave a slight green tint to the skin tones.

7) Just chillin on the brick fence.

8) We spread out some bed sheets on the grass and let Madison crawl around. I was on my belly shooting some low angle shots, when it occurred to be to have both Bic and Keith get in on the shot too. Now everybody was laying on their bellys on the grass.

9) This was shot in their kitchen. We had some nice window light reflecting off their hardwood floors and illuminating their faces. I used Neat Image to smooth out their skin tones.

10 ) Another belly shot. This time everybody is looking at the camera. I think out of the two, I prefer the other shot because Madison has a more interesting expression on her face.

11) Lunch time. During the middle of the shoot, Madison started licking her lips. That's her way of saying, feed me! We took a break from the Photo shoot so that she could down a jar of baby food. I took some quick shots over Keith's shoulder while he was feeding her.

12) We tried to attach a little bow to her hair but it wouldn't stay. Madison did not agree with it and kept on taking it off. We settled for this headband.

13) One of Madison's toys. I like how the green glows against the dark counter top.

14) I wanted the juxtaposition of size between Keith and Madison. She's so tiny next to him.

15) Family shot. I wanted to use my external flash for this shot to give the colors more pop. However, the disposable batteries for my flash died. We ended up moving the couch to the other side of the living room to catch more of the window light. Remind me to purchase some rechargeable batteries.

16) More munching...

17) Bic seems so peaceful in this shot. Ah the beauty of motherhood.

18 ) Hi there!

19) Even her frowns look cute. Hehe.

20) I had to reprocess this shot a couple of times before I was happy with it. For some reason, Keith's face had a lot of red color tones. As I tried to adjust the contrast, it made the redness more apparent. I ended up pushing the cyan color tones to neutralize the red a bit.

My life one click at a time...