Royal Terns with breeding plumage at Fort Desoto

The Fort Desoto Park is made of five islands in the St Petersburg area (Florida). It is one of the best birding spots on the Florida West coast to photograph shore birds. I would gladly take you there on a Royal Tern at Fort Desoto with breeding plumage

Royal Tern portrait on the beach. This photograph was created in Fort Desoto Park, Florida.

ISO 640 | f/6.3 | 1/8000 | Manual Mode | AI servo rear focusing

This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review), the Canon EOS 5D mark III laying flat on the beach sand.

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I am very pleased with this creation. The background is as clean as it can be, the head angle is perfect and what a beautiful bird! How do you capture such a pose? The angle is of the utmost importance here. One needs to lay as low on the ground as possible, which will give this eye level perspective and help with a pleasing blur for background.

The photograph below is a Royal Tern shaking its wings.

Royal Tern shaking its wings - Fort Desoto

Royal Tern shaking it off. This photograph was created in Fort Desoto Park, Florida.

ISO 640 | f/6.3 | 1/8000 | Manual Mode | AI servo rear focusing

This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review), the Canon EOS 5D mark III laying flat on the beach sand.

Created the soon after the first photograph, this Royal Tern’s pose. A lot of attitude!

Finally, the photograph below is a Royal Tern still with winter plumage in a landing maneuver.

Royal Tern in flight - Thalasseus maximus

Royal Tern landing amongst its peers. This photograph was created in Fort Desoto Park, Florida.

ISO 640 | f/6.3 | 1/6400 | Manual Mode | AI servo rear focusing

This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review), the Canon EOS 5D mark III handheld while seating on the sand.

You might notice that some of those birds still have winter plumage with patchy whites on their head. Tips: a great way to capture landings is to handhold your lens while seating on the ground and wait for the arrival of new comers in a flock of shorebirds on the ground.

Support our blog by following our links for your purchases. It comes at no extra cost to you and it helps keeping this photography blog lively!

Steven

Rear focusing or back button focusing secrets

Rear focusing or back button focusing can come out very handy in wildlife photography! What is rear focusing???
This technique is not very well known, yet it is an effective way to combine ONE SHOT focus mode with AI SERVO mode. One presses the AF-ON or * back button with the thumb from the back of the camera (hence the name rear focusing) to obtain focus and metering, while the shot is only taken when the shutter button is fully pushed down with your index. Yes, one needs to use two fingers instead of one. Why complicating things?

This topic recently came back to my mind as I was attending a round table with the Tampa Area Professional Photographers Association (TAPPA), of which I am now a member! 🙂 Check out what they do and join if you live close.

To me there are two main advantages of back-button AF:

1. One can create effective stitches with multiple photographs as the technique meters only once. For instance, while being in AI SERVO mode, acquire focus and meter by pressing the back button with your thumb, take a first shot with your index, then release the back button, move your camera to the side or desired area to add to the first picture taken, then press with your index to take a second shot, third, etc… You have metered only the first time you acquired focus with the back button and the white balance and exposure level (meter) will not change until you press again the back button.

2. Focusing with the back button tends to track moving subjects a tad better, as you don’t lose the tracking mode when pressing with the index. When you track in the traditional way, by half pressing with your index, one sometimes loses the tracking once the shutter fully pressed.

Another advantage is that you can stop tracking with an undesired object comes in front of your focused subject and you can still take a few shots while this is happening without losing the focus you had locked in the first subject. This is useful in sports photography when the referee passes in front of the subject you are tracking.

Canon did a good job at explaining the technique in their back button AF article.

The photograph below is a Royal Tern with breeding plumage made out of two stitched  photographs.

Royal Tern - Fort Desoto, Florida

Royal Tern standing in the surf. This photograph was created in Fort Desoto, Florida.

ISO 800 | f/8 | 1/800 | Manual Mode | AI servo rear focusing

This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review) with the 1.4x Extender III, the Canon EOS 5D mark III laying flat on the beach sand. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

I am actually not overly thrilled with this creation. Why? The Royal Tern could have used a bit more space to the right side. In other words, I should have taken 3 or 4 vertical shots instead of 2 horizontal ones…

Do not forget to check out the fantastic African safari tour I will be leading next year! Join me to the BOTSWANA & VICTORIA FALLS PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR next September 2014! I will teach you step by step how to create the best photos. From beginners to professionals.

Botswana Victoria Falls photography tour

Support our blog by following our links for your purchases. It comes at no extra cost to you and it helps keeping this photography blog lively!

Steven

Two lions sleeping together in Savuti, Chobe National Park

How do you deal with a subject partly in the shade? See below two male lions sleeping side by side in Savuti, Chobe National Park.

Lions sleeping in Savuti, Chobe National Park

Two male lions sleeping together. This photograph was created in the Savuti Game Reserve, in the Chobe National Park – Botswana.

ISO 1000 | f/4 | 1/2000 | Av Mode with no manual exposure compensation | AI servo focus

This photograph was created with the Canon 300mm f/4 L IS USM lens, the Canon EOS 5D mark II supported on a bean bag.

Those two male lions are peacefully taking a nap together under the shade of a Mopane tree. The big issue with subjects partially shaded (like under a tree!) is that it will be nearly impossible to obtain a great exposure. In this case I had made the mistake not to manually overexpose with the manual exposure compensation coupled with Av mode. I thought it was a mistake. In reality I was lucky doing so! Why? You want to expose your images so that you don’t blow up the highlights and thus obtain a non clipped histogram the furthest possible to the right. How to deal with the dark areas then?

In this specific case I followed a three step procedure with the best image editing software:
1. Increase the brightness of the overall photograph in Photoshop so that you achieve proper exposure on the face of the subject. As you may see in the animated GIF further below, the original capture is quite dark.
2. Run Detail Extractor from NIK software (see our link to the right) on the two lions only put on a separate layer. Note that it is usually much better to select the area of interest and paste it in its own layer for best results.
3. Run a Linear Burn on the highlights all over the image. How do you this? Under Select / Color Range…, you open the color range selection wizard. Select the bright areas with the eye drop. Click OK, and then click on the Refine Edge Wizard in your top bar with the Radius at 50 pixels. This will give a smoother separation. Paste the selection on its own layer by clicking Ctrl+J, then choose Linear Burn in the blending mode.

If you are at a loss with all this Photoshop editing, keep an eye open for a group of Photoshop video tutorials I will be soon offering!

Lions animated GIF

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE END RESULT?

Would you like to have a chance to be in the African savannah to create such a photograph? Join me to the BOTSWANA & VICTORIA FALLS PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR next September 2014! I will teach you step by step how to create the best photos. From beginners to semi-professionals. THE FIRST THREE PEOPLE TO REGISTER WILL BENEFIT FROM A $1,000 DISCOUNT!

Botswana Victoria Falls photography tour

Support our blog by following our links for your purchases. It comes at no extra cost to you and it helps keeping this photography blog lively!

Steven

Botswana & Victoria Falls Instructional Photography Tour – Sep 2014

Join me as your tour leader to an amazing photography workshop in Botswana and the Victoria Falls! This exclusive African safari will take you from the Okavango Delta, to the Chobe National Park and to the mighty Victoria Falls. In September 2014, accompany me and a small group to the trip that made me fall in love with wildlife photography.
Botswana Victoria Falls photography tour

Are you ready to spend your days between game drives, photo critiques, Photoshop tutorials, drinks around the fire and great company? We will be exploring the African savannah aboard customized vehicles that are almost fully open, with side mounts to lay our heavy lenses on. Everything is thought to maximize the photography experience, starting with only one person per row in the vehicles.

African Safari Customized Vehicles

The photograph below is an iconic capture of life in the African savannah.

springboks walking towards a lion

Two Springboks walking towards danger. This photograph was created in Botswana – Africa.

ISO 250 | f/7.1 | 1/500 | Av Mode with no manual exposure compensation | AI servo focus

This photograph was created with the Canon 300mm f/4 L IS USM lens (Canon 300mm f/4 L IS USM review), the Canon EOS 5D mark II supported on a bean bag. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

Those two Springboks are walking towards a male lion wandering about the African savannah. Big cat preys tend to be faster than their predators if they are given sufficient notice. African antelopes often directly face a predator or even start walking towards them to show that the cat has been spotted. It seems like an odd behavior, something you will certainly not see in a zoo!

Support our blog by following our links for your purchases. It comes at no extra cost to you and it helps keeping this photography blog lively!

Steven

Flightless Cormorant’s courtship

The photograph below is a pair of Flightless Cormorant going through their courtship ritual.

Flightless Cormorant - Fernandina Island, Galapagos

Flightless Cormorants in love.

ISO 1600 | f/5.6 | 1/640 | Manual Mode | AI servo focus

This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens with a 1.4x III Extender, the Canon EOS 5D mark III, handheld.

This pair of Flightless Cormorants is swimming around each other in the cold water current of Fernandina Island, in the Galapagos Islands. What are they doing? Courting each other! 🙂 I was lucky to witness this superb display of chase and pursue in the ocean. Note that Flightless Cormorants are amongst the rarest birds with only 1,500 individuals left. This Cormorant lost the ability to fly and rely on efficient swimming.

Image optimization: As there was not much luminosity and I had to capture the action, I had to rely on a high ISO of 1600 in dark set up. Though the 5D mark III showed great ISO performance as usual, there was still some noticeable noise left. While I had lowered the noise with Photoshop Camera RAW, I decided to apply a second level of noise reduction. After creating a somewhat detailed selection of the pair of birds, I inverted the selection and pressed CTRL+J to copy and paste on a different layer. Then I applied a surface blur filter and voila!!

The photograph below is a pair of Waved Albatross preening each other during their courtship ritual.

Flightless Cormorant at the seaweed nest - Galapagos Islands

Flightless Cormorant portrait at the nest.

ISO 640 | f/5.6 | 1/2500 | Manual Mode | AI servo focus

This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens and the Canon EOS 5D mark III, handheld.

This adult Flightless Cormorant is covering its seaweed nest. The male will come with seaweed leaves as presents for the female, while the female use the gifts as building block for a nest about 50 meters away from the water.

Support our blog by following our links for your purchases. It comes at no extra cost to you and it helps keeping this photography blog lively!

Steven

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