Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Red-headed Woodpecker

Last week I went out photographing in hopes of getting some photos of bluebirds. Earlier I had been to the spot birdwatching and there were several bluebirds, including some recent fledglings, and I thoughts it would be a great place to focus on the bluebirds.  But when I arrived it was dead quiet.  I waited around about 20 minutes and all I saw were a couple of goldfinches flying overhead.  I was about 2 hours earlier than I had been there birdwatching so I decided to try a different part of the park and return in hopes of finding more bluebirds later in the morning.

I never did find much bluebird activity.  When I returned to the spot there was one bird that perched on top a house but then left and didn't return.  But in between I encountered some red-headed woodpeckers.  Two birds came in to a couple of snags that were close together.  I had a pretty good view of one of the two.  One of the two occasionally visited a hold in a third tree that looked like a nesting hole.  I didn't hear or see any sign of babies but it surely looked like one.

Unfortunately the birds were at the top of some pretty tall snags and I was too far away and too far under the bird to get really good photos.  Maybe that means I need a longer lens!!!

After enjoying this pictures, be sure to stop by Tuesday's Tweets and Wild Bird Wednesday for more great bird photos.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Marco - Behind the scenes

Today for Macro Monday, I decided to talk a little about the equipment that goes into making a macro photograph.  The focus will be on what is reasonable for the typical amateur, like me, and not get into extremely specialized equipment or cameras larger than 35mm.

I'll start with clarifying a little terminology.  While no precise definition exists for macro and close-up photography, macro is usually understood to be a photograph where the image projection on the film/sensor is at least as large as the actual subject (a 1:1 magnification).  Close-up photos have smaller image sizes but are still subjectively close.

Mushrooms in Shenandoah National Park; taken with
Canon 100mm macro lens
The best option for making high quality macro images is a lens designed for macros.  These types of lens are designed to have a maximum magnification of 1:1.  Most DSLR manufactures have several options.  The two major advantages macro lens have are that they can change focus for the nearest point (which gives the 1:1) to infinity without any modification to the lens.  This makes them usable as a standard lens also.  The second benefit is that the designers work to make sure that at the closest focus distance, the focal plane is flat.  Normally, the region in focus is slightly curved.  This is because the points that are equal distance from lens form a sphere and not a plane.  But with sophisticated lens design, the focal plane can be flattened.  If you are really into macro photography and will use the lens for macro more than about a third of the time, this is probably the lens for you. 

Fungus; taken with Olympus Stylus 600
Many point and shoot cameras have a macro mode.  This is a pretty good option if this is the type of camera you own.  The major disadvantage is that the cameras usually have a large depth of field so you are not able to get the background well of of focus to make the subject jump out or to have selective focus on the subject.  This is because point and shoot cameras have much shorter focal length lens than 35 mm or APS cameras do.  The smaller sensor in these cameras allow the back of the lens to be closer to the sensor as the image circle from the lens is only as big as the sensor.  This allows for a smaller focal length lens.  For example, my Olympus Stylus 600 has a wide angle focal length of only 5.8 mm.  But since the depth of field is inversely related to the focal length of the lens, this lens will make basically everything in focus.  For comparison, a typical SLR macro lens is between 100 mm and 180 mm.  But if you are willing to give up on having shallow depth of field, a point and shoot can make very good macro shots.

Moon Flower; taken with Canon 15-85mm lens with
12mm extension tube
The third option, and the one I use most often, is to add an extension tube to a regular lens.  An extension tube is an empty spacer that is inserted between the back of the lens and the camera body for an interchangeable lens camera.  By moving the lens further away from the sensor, the extension tube changes the focus range of the lens.  This allows you to focus closer to the lens than before.  And by getting closer, you increase the magnification.  The main benefit of extension tubes is that you can do macro photography with just about any lens.  And since the extension tubes are just spacers, there is no glass and very limited electronics, they are extremely light.  The disadvantages are that the lens can not focus at infinity with the extension tube attached.  So if you are mixing your subjects between close up and further away, you will need to keep taking the tube on and off.  And since the tube makes the image circle on the sensor larger, in also makes it darker.  For thinner tubes, it doesn't make much difference, but if you use a thick tube on a long lens you will lose a noticeable amount of light.
Close-up of Palamedes Swallowtail; taken with Canon 400 mm lens
and 20mm extension tube.

Carolina Chickadee; taken with Canon 400 mm lens
and 12 mm extension tube from window.
I use extensions tubes for a couple of reasons.  First, my camera bag is already full and I really didn't want to carry around another lens just for macros since they are not yet a major part of my portfolio. The extra weight and space of a dedicated lens just wasn't worth it.  Second, I can use the extension tube to let me focus closer with my 400mm and that's great.  The Canon 400mm f/5.6 lens is a great wildlife lens but has a closest focus distance of about 14 ft.  So I just add on a 12mm extension tube and can focus much closer which make those shots at the feeder all that much easier to get. 

And finally, extension tubes are an inexpensive way to get into true macro photography.  I bought a set of Kenko tubes that come in three sizes (plus they can be stacked) for a little over $100.  And don't worry about getting name brand tubes.  As was pointed out in one review I read, "the cheaper ones have the same 'low dispersion' air as the manufacturer's."  Just make sure there are not a lot of complaints about the autofocus not working.  If the electronics are not well designed, autofocus might not work. But otherwise, there really is no reason to pay for the name brand extension tubes.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Prothonotary Warbler

This past weekend I went birding with the Hampton Roads Bird club at Newport New Park.  One of the great sightings of the walk was the number of Prothonotary Warblers.  So this week for Tuesday's Tweets and Wild Bird Wednesday, I will share several of my photos of this gorgeous bird. 

Prothonotary Warblers are pretty easy to identify: they are bright yellow in front getting darker towards the back on on the wings.  Plus they are very loud singers and are willing to sit out in the open.  That last characteristic makes them good photo subjects.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

A garden walk

For Macro Monday this week I took a short walk around the garden looking for some unusual subjects.  And by unusual, I mean not flower blooms; I wasn't feeling so creative to do something totally off the wall. 

We have a rose bush that is starting to get get ready to explode in color.  It is a native Virginia Rose and in a week or two will be heavy with pink blooms.  But for now we have to live with the anticipation of what is to come.

In the spring time our lawn hosts hundreds of these small berry plants.  They are right at eye level for the turtles living in the yard and make a good turtle snack so we affectionately refer to them as turtleberries, although most people call them False or Indian Strawberries.  The flowers and berries are reminiscent of strawberries and they are edible but they are unrelated to the human food and do not have much of a taste.
Turtleberry (a.k.a. False Strawberry)
And our final stop is in our overgrown vegetable garden where the asparagus has moved beyond the edible stage.  But I thought the find foliage makes for a nice image.

Enjoy and be sure to stop by the other macro photographs at Lisa's Chaos.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Cooper's Hawk

A few weeks ago we had this Cooper's Hawk that, several times a day, would bring its prey to the yard to eat.  This went on for about a week and then stopped. There was a male and female that would sit in the trees calling to each other also.  Hopefully they nested somewhere nearby.  We still see Cooper's Hawks around, just not eating in the yard.

I like how in the third photo you can see the hawk taking off with a starling in tow.

Enjoy other birding photos at Tuesday's Tweets and Wild Bird Wednesday.

And be sure to check out the Mourning Dove babies.

Copper's Hawk
Cooper's Hawk with Starling in talons

Taking lunch from one branch to another