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Winter Wildlife

The dead of winter is full of life. Much of the local wildlife that we never see all year can be found in winter. Without trees for cover many animals like deer and coyotes suddenly appear. This image of a coyote I took a few years ago as it ran along Duxbury Bay early in the morning. I saw the coyote from a distance. Coyotes are very cautious, I tried to get in a position upwind of the animal in the hopes of getting a shot. I drove ahead and positioned myself in a spot that I though the animal would pass. Using a Nikon D1 and a 300mm lens, I waited. The coyote kept coming and I was able to get a few frames. I liked this one the best due to the composition and positions of all the legs.
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Lots of other wildlife makes our area home for the winter, snowy owls along Duxbury Beach, seals can be found along the coast. Backyard bird feeders are good too. Try to position your feeder close to a window that you can shoot through. If you shoot through class, get your lens as close to the window as you can.. I get some very cool looking woodpeckers in the winter at my feeder. If you like birds take a look at   www.massbird.org for a list of local and rare visitors.
 
For seals I like Manomet Point near the Manomet Lobster Pound in Plymouth. The seals can be seen on sunny days at low tide soaking up the sun on rocks. You can get some shots from the beach with a long lens. Try to walk quietly as you move closer. I like to shoot a little move a little, this way I have at least an image or two. Someone told me that seals can’t see to well but have good hearing so be walk slowly.
 
The Mass Audubon Daniel Webster sanctuary has some great observation blinds to photograph winter waterfowl on a pond. It is also home to many birds of prey like barred owls and northern harriers. Worlds End in Hingham has resident deer and a family of great horned owls.
 

We have snow due this weekend and it looks like it may last on the ground for a while. I can’t wait.

Capture the season

 
Capture the season.
 Everyone shoots pictures for the holidays, if you’re like me, some shots you have to take. My wife has the cloths already laid out for the kids to wear for our Christmas card. You now the kids in front of the tree in winter sweaters. I try to turn it up a notch with strobe lighting and maybe some ambient tree lights but regardless of the work that goes into the lighting the kids better be smiling.
 
I like houses decorated with lights, nothing like driving around with the family looking for the coolest neighborhood with the wildest lights. At the Ledger we will run a page of pictures of the wildest houses. Shooting pictures of Christmas lights has its challenges. One challenge is color balance. Christmas lights come in a wide variety of colors and types, you have incandescent, LED, and fluorescent as well as tungsten lights. If you start shooting you will find that many lights will not record either on film or file in the real color they were at the time you shot the image.

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That’s OK there is very little you can do about it. If you select the “Auto White Balance” on your digital camera you may get the best results. I like to shoot lights with some ambient light in the sky, not total darkness. This allows for better detail on the house, trees and more depth in the overall image. If you can, get the homeowner to put the lights on early, just before sunset. Using a tripod is a must since you need to shoot at longer exposures than you can hold the camera steady. Some places like Edaville Railroad in Carver and LaSalette Shrine in Attleboro give you plenty of opportunity for night shots. The Kingston luminaries on Christmas Eve are also very nice to photograph. Snow covered ground can add another great element to outdoor light displays.
 

 

I’ve gotten a few emails about talking at camera clubs. I am happy to talks with photo groups. Once I’m back from vacation after the holidays I’ll start to schedule them. If you have an idea for a blog topic feel free to post a comment.

 

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving. This is a favorite image I took early in the morning March of 2004. We had a late season snowfall. I like Plimoth Plantation and have made some nice pictures there over the years. We naturally cover many Thanksgiving stories in Plymouth. In the recreated village there is very little color to contrast against the weathered grays of many of the buildings. Some locations just cry for snow. When the Ledger was printed in black and white I made some nice images during an early November snow and still remember wishing we ran cPlantation BLOG-gd.jpgolor. Snow adds such a great element to many scenes that normally have trouble standing out. So when we had an early snowfall during operation of the plantation I jumped at the chance. I wanted to be the first person in the village to get the pilgrims (historic interpreters) setting up the houses for the day. Each house has a fireplace, which is used for heating and cooking. The interpreters rely on them for heat in the early months of the season. The staff has to stock each house with wood. They also feed the livestock .I positioned myself at the top of the village looking down hoping for a character to walk across the village. The fellow in the picture was coming from a wood storage rack walking in my direction to fill a house behind me with wood. I got off maybe 3 images before he passed. I also shot images of him feeding the cattle. I selected this image for the paper since we were just coming off a long winter. It made me think about living in 1622 in the dead of winter. One editor said it reminded him of a Dutch painting with all the dark features. I have to agree. The image was taken on a Nikon D1 with a 17-35mm zoom. ISO was 400. I had to tone down the sky a bit to balance with the white snow.

Take two, three,four

Some shots take a lot more work than I expect. The Boston Light and Graves Light image was the third attempt at the picture. The first time the atmosphere was too dense (hazy). The second time the wind caused too much camera shake in the long exposure. The third time was the charm. My good friend Bill Shields and I set out for the base of Fort Revere in Hull before sunset. The air was clear and crisp with no wind. Boston Light is probably a mile from the fort, and Graves Light maybe a mile beyond that. To compress the two lights into one frame, have good focus on both lights (depth of field) and get them flashing together required a long lens and a long exposure.
I chose a Canon 1D MkIIn, which has an 8.3-megapixel processor. I selected a 300mm 2.8 telephoto coupled to a 1.4 converter. With the cameras 1.3 crop factor of the camera plus the 1.4 teleconverter on the 300, that makes a 546mm lens. I could have gone longer (maybe next time) To get the lights shining and depth of field I needed a long exposure- I though about 15 seconds would do it. The lights only shine together once every 30 seconds or so.
To keep noise (grain, fuzz) to a minimum I wanted to shoot at ISO 200. As the light faded I ended up with ISO 400. Shooting in RAW I had lots of chances later to correct any flaws in Photoshop. (RAW is an uncompressed file type; JPEG compresses the image by stripping off some data) For color balance I selected (automatic) which was a guess since the image mixes daylight with incandescent.
I mounted the rig on a heavy tripod and got out the cable release. Bill and I made a number of test shots to start dialing in on what we wanted. Bill was using a similar camera set up with a Mk III camera. The first shots looked OK but warm (yellow cast). As the sky started to get darker we started to get a colder (blue) sky.
 
 bad light
One problem we found was that as the lens on Boston rotated it shone directly into the camera lens creating a very bad flair. Ok how can we get a shot without the light shining in the lens when that is what we kind of wanted? I had an idea that the flair was only from the instant the lighthouses lens was pointed directly at my lens. The solution was to stop the recording of the exposure during that brief time. I took a small dark seat pad from my trunk which is use to sit on hard surfaces. As the light rotated past my lens I covered the camera lens with the pad. This allowed me to get the lens shining, but no flair. Now I had to increase the length of exposure since I was cutting some time off with the use of the black shade. I ended up with a 30 second exposure.
After maybe 15 frames it looked as though we has some keepers. The darker it got, the less I liked the sky too, so we packed up the gear and headed for the computers to process the image. Raw images don’t open in my editing software so I had to open each image in Photoshop one at a time. Some of the images had camera shake (motion) just from tripping the shutter (next time I’ll try mirror lock up) some were out of focus and some were not properly exposed. I picked one frame and started tuning. The color is almost right from the camera. I did have a few CCD dust specs, which I cloned out, added smart sharpen and dodged a few spots on the outbuildings of Boston Light. The red streak is a boat traveling into the harbor; the red is it’s portside running light.
I like the results, but want to try the shot once more; maybe a little longer lens and mirror lock-up to dampen any camera shake. Bill wants to try using a 600mm lens for his shot.

 

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

Keep your eye on the ball. Ask any sports photographer and they will all tell you most great action shots will include the ball or puck or a portion of it. Now that’s not to say that all sports shots follow this rule, but most do. How can you best position yourself to get great sports shots? Whether “ T Ball” Little League or High School you can get great action shots with a little practice and some luck. First, know the game. Anticipate the play and be ready. You don’t need a super telephoto.
 

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Let’s take football. If the one team possesses the ball, they are moving in one direction to the end zone. If you position yourself ahead of the play in the end zone they will ultimately come to you. You just have to sit and wait. Well it takes a little more than that. You need to be ready. Since most sports are fast moving you’ll want to freeze the action. I like to use shutter priority setting on my camera. “S” in Nikon, “Tv” in Canon. A shutter speed over 1/500th is best. You may need to adjust the ISO rating to get to the desired shutter speed. I like to start with a longer lend on the end zone and either zoom back as the action gets closer or switch to a shorter lens. In covering pro sports I keep a second body ready with a short lens (50mm) in case the play ends right in front of me.
The shot of Moss making a fingertip reception on the one-yard line was made this way.
Camera was a Canon Mk II n with a 300mm lens; shutter speed was 1/1000th at ISO 320

 

Sometimes Less is More

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Focus can be overrated. There are times when having less of an image in focus can create a better result than having most of the image in focus. If you really want to but emphasis on a subject or a portion of a scene use focus to do it. For example, you’re trying to get a shot of your kid who has the great smile, shooting against a cluttered background. If you have lots of depth of field, the smile gets lost in the scene. Kind of like seeing the forest and not the trees. In this case I switch to a “slice focus” or “shallow focus” technique which allows for strong emphasis on the smile and allows the background to stay just that-background. One-way to do this is to switch your camera controls to “A” or aperture priority. This allows you to pick the aperture opening and the camera will pick the shutter speed to allow for a proper exposure. If you are shooting in daylight you will have to drop your ISO “film/sensor speed” to allow for a wide-open aperture. Don’t be surprised if your shutter speed-reads well over 1/1000th of a second- that’s OK we want the aperture to be our tool. Some lenses like “primes”(fixed focal lengths between 35-100mm) give better results than a wide angle or a zoom. The wider the lenses aperture (1.4-2.8) the better the effect. I like to use the effect for more than just faces. It works well with flowers or objects were you want the viewer to look at the subject, which appears to float in the background.