My Favorite Photos of the Week
I usually have a favorite photo I’ve taken on any given week, as I’m sure most professional and busy amateur photographers have.
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[Featured photo in banner above: “Let’s Hear It for the Photographer!” Moss Landing, California, 2019]
Pine Valley Fall Color, December 10, 2021
“Pine Valley Fall Color.” I was on my way to camp in Anza Borrego and made a few stops along the way. One was in Pine Valley to visit a small park to look for birds. While there, a line of mature trees near the parking lot caught my eye. Most of the trees had lost their leaves, but a few sections of brilliant color remained. I walked around to find different compositions and to get far enough away to fit in all the trees. The tree trunks look so solid and massive while the rest of the tree structure is mostly very fine twigs that have a lacy look. The bright overcast day helped to bring out the colors of the leaves and the texture in the trees and dried brush.
Settings: Nikon D800 with Nikon 200-500 mm lens at 210 mm; 1/1250 sec, f/6.3, ISO1250. Handheld.
Cardiff State Beach Cove During a King Tide, December 06, 2021
“The Highest High Water.” The highest king tide of the month was on December 4 and I was out photographing it at the local beaches with a friend. The weather was very gray with a thick marine layer, but it was good to scout out locations under these high tide conditions. The weather conditions were the same on Dec. 5 so I did not go out, but the morning of Dec. 6 was sunny with no clouds. While the tide was not quite as high, I went back to the locations where I liked the compositions to see what they would look like with better light. All was going well until suddenly, out of nowhere it seemed, it was suddenly foggy. I hadn’t seen a fog bank out to the west, so I am wondering if the fog just suddenly formed. Fortunately I could still see a little of the sun through the fog behind me, which added a little warmth to the light.
For this scene, I used a screw-on variable neutral density filter on my wide angle zoom lens. One advantage of this set-up is that I could fine-tune the density as the light conditions changed to either keep the same long shutter speed or experiment with shutter speeds. This area is sandy except for the rocks by the cliff and I had never seen it with such a high tide. At lower tides I can easily access the beach here, but not this morning! I took many photos as the waves went in and out of the area. I liked how this wave emphasized the curve in the cove and the long exposure revealed the circular action of the moving water. There was some retouching on the right side to simplify the scene. To me, this scene has a bit of a lonely feeling to it. It also looks so different from when I usually go to the beach that I would probably not have recognized this location if I had seen a similar photo before my king tide photo outings.
Settings: Nikon D800 with Nikon 24-70 lens, 2.5 sec, f/18, ISO 100 using a variable neutral density filter and a tripod.
Sunset at Cardiff State Beach, November 22, 2021
“After the Green Flash.” I had gone to the beach to photograph shorebirds but there were only a few birds around, perhaps because the beach was busier than usual with people. It doesn’t take much for a bird to move away from people walking or running on the beach, and some children (young and old) seem to love chasing the birds. I stayed until sunset, as there were cloud formations that I hoped would turn color. The actual sunset was mostly obscured by clouds, but there was a very long green flash and a red glow. The magic happened after sunset, as the clouds near the horizon lit up, and the western edge of a higher cloud suddenly began to glow. The colors intensified and the swirls and eddies in the cloud edge became highlighted.
I used my long lens at 400 mm to do 3 horizontal overlapping photos, then zoomed to 500 mm and made 6 overlapping vertical photos. I exposed to make sure that I did not overexpose the bright colors, so I was checking my histogram in order to optimize my exposure. Shown here is the resulting panorama from the 3 photo set, stitched together in Adobe Camera Raw. I added some contrast to increase the drama of the scene.
Settings: Nikon D800E with Nikon 200-500 mm lens at 400 mm, 1/1250 sec, f/6.3, ISO 1250. Handheld.
Black and White Warbler, November 17, 2021
“This End Up!” I like to go on some of the local Audubon bird walks, and this morning’s was in Upper Cottonwood Creek in Encinitas, CA. This park has a creek that runs through it with many California sycamore trees and has undeveloped areas with native vegetation that are being restored. These areas help to attract the birds.
A Black and White Warbler had been spotted a couple days earlier and as this bird is rare for our area, we were hoping to see it. The group spent some time looking for this bird by the creek, but most folks had gone ahead or had left for their car when I heard a different bird in the trees and looked for it. I never did find the other bird but quickly spotted the warbler! What remained of the group came back and I spent about 20 min photographing the warbler as it perched in various sycamore trees, looking for bugs. Sometimes it looked like it put its ear to a branch as if listening for insects underneath the bark. This warbler is unusual that it climbs around the trunk and large branches like a nuthatch. As I had never seen this warbler before and I was the hero of the morning, it was a good walk.
Settings: Nikon D800E with Nikon 200-500 mm lens, 1/2000 sec, f/6.3, ISO 1600. Handheld. I had been using a monopod but this bird was so fast and high up in the trees I took off the monopod.
Willet in the Surf, November 09, 2021
“Willet in the Surf.” I never know what birds I might find at the beach in fall, and even if I see them they are often difficult to photograph. This day the ocean was a bit choppy and constantly surging in as the tide was going out, and the birds were difficult to approach. Because it was afternoon I had to be out in the water to try to get good light on the birds, so I had to keep an eye on the waves so I didn’t get too wet. This Willet had been foraging near the surf line but ran back to the drier beach as a small wave flowed in. I try to get as low to the ground as I can so I am closer to the level of the bird and its environment but this can be challenging when waves are moving back and forth at my location.
Willets breed in the Great Basin and Great Plains, then migrate to either coast or further south for winter. I have only seen them in their non-breeding gray plumage and not their mottled breeding plumage (which may help them blend in while nesting). During the winter months on the coast they eat a variety of food, including crabs, mollusks and insects found along the shore or mudflats.
Settings: Nikon D800E with Nikon 200-500 mm lens, 1/3200, f/7.1, ISO 800. Handheld.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet, November 04, 2021
“’This Is My Branch!'” I had to be at a mid-morning meeting in Del Mar and noticed that there was a small park only a couple blocks away where a Red-breasted Sapsucker had recently been sighted. I found the sapsucker, who promptly flew away, but I stayed in that spot because I heard a number of other birds around and hoped that maybe some of them would come closer.
I had heard at least two Ruby-crowned Kinglets giving their little chittering call as I walked on the path through the park. These birds are quite small and are always on the go, making them difficult to photograph. Usually I only hear one in an area. I suddenly saw that one of them was calling and showing his red-orange crown on the other side of the path, and then he flew across and landed not that far in front of me. He really started scolding and looking down, flaring his crest, so I stayed very still and started photographing. It was a dark morning so I had a high ISO and hoped that the shutter speed was high enough. He kept pivoting back and forth on his branch, looking down, and I wondered what danger he had spotted. I then heard a second male kinglet, who briefly flew up onto a branch near the first bird, and then they both flew off over the path and chased around a tree. I was excited to look through my photos of this encounter. Most of the photos had a few pine needles in front of the tail, but one of the last photos had a clear shot of the little bird with his crest lifted up, and the upper pine needles remind me of curtains being pulled back on a stage.
This photo was featured on the eBird(.com) home page the week of November 8.
Settings: 1/1250 sec, f/5.6, ISO 4000. Nikon D800E with Nikon 200-500 mm lens, handheld. Topaz DeNoise was used for noise removal and some sharpening after processing in Photoshop.
The Mallard, October 20, 2021
“The Mallard.” We made a short outing to the San Diego Safari Park this afternoon to walk around. In the winter season I like to check for the wild ducks that frequent the ponds and often outnumber the waterfowl in the park’s collection (I sometimes wonder if the park feeds the wild ducks). If the wind is calm there can be nice reflections in the water, and this afternoon I was fortunate to have a few of the ducks pose where the reflections were colorful. I watched this male Mallard preening and was ready when he rose up and flapped his wings.
In post-processing I darkened the background in the upper righthand corner, as it was fairly light and distracting, and I think this change gives the photo some drama. I also brought out the reflection of the sky under the duck, as I love how it matches the blue speculum on his wing. I was at the correct angle to have his head reflect a brilliant emerald green, as the apparent color of his head changes with the angle of light.
Settings: Nikon D800E with Nikon 200-500 mm lens, 1/3200 sec, f/5.6, ISO 1000.
Manzanar, October 17, 2021
“City of Lost Dreams.” I was on an outing with one of my photo clubs in the eastern Sierra region of California and one of our photoshoot locations was Manzanar. I arrived around 7 am and walked around the area by the historic entrance gate. Little remains of this World War II Japanese internment camp, but there are rock outlines of some of the foundations and descriptive signs. It is hard to imagine what it would have been like to be one of the 10,000 Japanese-Americans forced to live here during part of World War II, as it is a remote and rather harsh environment.
Just after I left this area, the rising sun reached that part of the park, so I circled around and came back to photograph again. How to capture this place in a meaningful way? I had no idea until I came to the Police headquarters, where the cracked foundation still remains. I realized that a composite image might work, so I photographed the foundation from different angles (but I ended up using the very first photo I took of it) and then photos of a nearby interpretive sign describing an uprising at the camp.
As I drove home that day, I thought about how to do the final image, so after looking through my photos it was rather fast to put together. The flag fit between the cracks, and I used a blend mode to get the texture from the foundation into the photo. I had to enlarge the signage as I only wanted to use a small section and then blended it in and reduced the opacity of that layer using Photoshop.
If resilience is defined by anything, it is that I drove to Manzanar in my Japanese-made car and took my photo with my Japanese-made camera.
Settings: Nikon D800 with Nikon 28-70 mm lens. Scenic image was 1/250 sec, f/11 at ISO 320. Foundation cracks was 1/200 sec, f/11, ISO 250.
Sunrise Ice Abstract at North Lake, October 14, 2021
“Sunrise Ice Abstract at North Lake.” This photo was taken the first morning of a multi-day outing with a photo club that I belong to. It was 24F at dawn at North Lake, which is located in the eastern Sierra region west of Bishop, CA. The edges of the lake were frozen, and I loved the patterns that were visible when the early sunlight lighting up a nearby hillside was reflected by the ice, along with the blue sky. I used my wide-angle lens mounted on a tripod and then later cropped the scene to make a pleasing design.
Settings: Nikon D800 with Nikon 28-70 mm lens; 1/4 sec, f/16, ISO 200. Camera was mounted on a Manfrotto tripod.
Windansea Seascape, October 03, 2021
“Yoga Beach Sunset.” I had organized a seascape photo workshop led by Scott Davenport for my photo club and our photoshoot was late afternoon one afternoon in the Windansea area of La Jolla. I had bought a variable neutral density filter for my wide angle zoom lens so that I could use a slow shutter speed to blur the wave action. I worked on several compositions, but the one shown is my favorite from the session due to the quality of the late afternoon sunlight that enhanced the composition.
The photo was taken with a 1.3 second shutter speed. While I loved the warm colors in the foreground and on all the rocks, the color of the deeper ocean was not an appealing color. I duplicated the RAW file and processed it for cooler colors and then blended the resulting blue ocean with the warmer file in Photoshop. There were a number of people on the rocks behind the yoga woman, so I removed them. Finally, I replaced the bland sky with a sliver of a photo I took later that afternoon when the sun was closer to sunset, positioning it so that the light angles look believable.
Settings: 1.3 seconds at f/16, ISO 100. Nikon D800 with 24-70 mm Nikon lens, Tiffen 77 mm variable ND filter, Manfrotto tripod.
Double-crested Cormorant Tossing Fish, September 17, 2021
“Double-crested Cormorant Tossing Fish.” It was a grey morning at San Elijo Lagoon but that didn’t stop this Double-crested Cormorant from finding a large breakfast. However, this fish was quite a mouthful and I watched the bird position and try to swallow the fish for 8 minutes. I was then distracted for a couple minutes and when I looked at the cormorant again, the fish was no longer visible; had the cormorant finally swallowed it? I think the fish is a young California halibut (flounder) with both eyes on one side. These halibut hatch and grow in bays and lagoons for the first 2 to 3 years of their life before living in the coastal areas of the ocean ranging from Washington state to Baja, Mexico.
Settings: Nikon D800E with Nikon 200-500 mm lens, 1/2000 sec, f/6.3, ISO 2000.
Sea Lions at La Jolla, August 19, 2021
“Sea Lions at La Jolla.” I took a short walk around the cliffs of La Jolla, looking for birds, but the sea lions really caught my eye on this overcast morning. Many of them were quite close to the sidewalk area and were peacefully snoozing. There were some little babies, too, a little farther away, as the sea lions use this area to give birth and raise their young. Fortunately this year they closed off access for people to climb onto the rocks during the pupping season, as sometimes tourists get too close to these cuddly-looking but wild animals.
I walked around a bit, looking for a center of interest amid all the bodies and rocks. I liked the way that these two sea lions appeared to be snuggling and they looked so peaceful at rest. The top part of the scene was distracting, and while I could have darkened it to keep it more of a “normal” photo, I thought this might be a good photo for texture blending to help keep attention on the two front animals. I added a texture and blended it in with a soft brush, then adjusted the texture with a hue/saturation layer in Photoshop. After more adjustments, I went back into Camera Raw with the whole image and found a processing preset that helped bring everything together and add more contrast.
Settings: Nikon D800E with Nikon 200-500 mm lens, 1/1250 sec, f/6.3, ISO 800. Handheld.
Allen’s Hummingbird Revving Up, August 18, 2021
“Allen’s Hummingbird Revving Up.” This Allen’s Hummingbird, which has been dominant in the yard for several months, has intrigued me but only today was I able to get a good photo of it. At first glance, the bird would be observed to be an adult male, with its bright orange gorget. However, this bird also has white-tipped tail feathers, which are usually only seen on females or possibly juveniles. Interestingly, an article came out only a couple weeks after I took this photo that documents that 20% of adult female White-necked Jacobin hummingbirds have male-like plumage which helps them to avoid harassment and feed for longer time periods. Could this happen in other hummingbird species as well? Earlier this year the dominant hummer was a female Allen’s Hummingbird, so the females can be quite aggressive. Unfortunately this bird was replaced by a male in September, so I will probably never know if it was a male or female.
The photo was taken from a window, as this hummingbird did not like having its photo taken when I would sit outside. I was quite happy to get this photo that fully displays the male and female feather characteristics.
Settings: Nikon D800E with Nikon 200-500mm lens, 1/1000 sec, f/5.6, ISO 2000 with a Manfrotto monopod. Topaz DeNoise was used for noise reduction and sharpening.
Mourning Dove Posing on Bench, August 08, 2021
“Mourning Dove Posing on a Bench.” Many mornings I sit outside on a bench and watch the birds after putting out bird seed. By sitting quietly, many of the birds and other animals have come to accept me and go about their lives. A decorative garden bench is near a birdbath, and sometimes the birds will wait on this bench while in line for a drink or bath. This Mourning Dove seemed to pose for me, turning its head back and forth in the soft morning light, ruffling its feather and putting its best foot forward. While these doves are common and often aren’t given a second look, they have a subtle beauty to them. They are also amazing fliers, as they need to evade the raptors that hunt them.
Settings: Nikon D800E with Nikon 200-500 mm lens. 1/1250 sec, f/6.3, ISO 1000. Topaz DeNoise.
Mouse On a Cut Log, August 06, 2021
“Mouse On a Cut Log.” I like to feed the birds every morning and I scatter the seeds in different locations so that the birds have a choice of areas for feeding. Sometimes I get a couple of additional visitors! Most of the mice stay on the ground, very close to places where they can quickly hide, but a couple mice learned how to climb this log to eat the food placed on top. It isn’t a very safe location for them as they are exposed to predators, so they never stay very long and quickly run back down at the first hint of danger. I have to be ready and move slowly with my camera so that I don’t startle them from where I sit outside.
Settings: Nikon D800E with Nikon 200-500 mm lens, 1/1600 sec, f/7.1, ISO 1000. Topaz DeNoise used for sharpening and noise reduction.
Dahlia Reflection, July 12, 2021
“Dahlia Reflection in Black and White.” I had been given some lovely dahlias so of course I had to take photos of them! For this image, I took an orange dahlia and placed it on a large sheet of gold reflective paper and used window light for my light source. When processing this image, there was so much orange I decided to try B&W and liked the conversion (I used Camera Raw) as the B&W version focused attention on the details in the flower instead of the color. I also rotated the frame. I did dodging and burning to put more focus on the center of the dahlia and worked on bringing out the petal structure.
Settings: Nikon D800 with Nikon 105 mm micro lens, Manfrotto tripod. 0.3 sec, f/16, ISO 100 using window light.
Dahlia Flower, July 11, 2021
“Dahlia Flower.” I had gotten a few beautiful dahlias grown by a local dahlia expert and wanted to create some photos with them. I love the symmetry of this dahlia, so I set it up inside so there would be no wind and used a white foam board as the background. I sprayed water on the flower and then photographed the composition, focusing one frame on the center of the flower and the second frame about halfway into the depth of the flower using a side petal. I wanted most of the petals to be sharp but could not do it with only one frame. I used a small hand-held light to make the water droplets sparkle a bit but the main light is from a window.
After doing standard processing of both images, I added the second image to the first, aligned the photos in layers and then blended in the outer petals that were out of focus in the main image. The very back petals are still out of focus, but that was my intent. I then chose a texture background to blend with the flower and used a hue/saturation layer to change the colors to a palette that I thought went well with the flower.
Settings: Nikon D800 with Nikon 105 mm micro lens, 1/4 sec, f/16, ISO 100. Camera was mounted on a Manfrotto tripod and a handheld Lume Cube was used for accent lighting.
Released Monarch Butterfly on Succulent Flowers, July 03, 2021
“Released Monarch Butterfly on Succulent Flowers.” This monarch is one that I had raised and released in the late afternoon after it had emerged from its chrysalis earlier in the day. Sometimes the monarchs fly right off, while others like to sit for a while, and as it was getting late in the day I was not surprised to see this one stay put in the garden. When photographing butterflies it is challenging to get the entire plane of the butterfly in focus, as the butterfly moves around or gently sways in even a light breeze.
I have started using Topaz DeNoise AI and find that it does an excellent job of removing noise throughout the image and increases sharpness and detail in the subject. I usually use the auto setting and then make any further adjustments from there. The program is very fast, which saves me a lot of time; before I would duplicate the image, use Camera Raw to remove noise and then have to mask the subject so that the noise would mainly be removed from the background. Now that is all done automatically in seconds and is much better than I could do before.
Settings: Nikon D800 with Nikon 105 mm micro lens, 1/160 sec, f/7.1, ISO 800
Pink Garden Roses, June 23, 2021
“Pink Garden Roses.” I’ve had this rose bush for many years and love the way it produces clumps of pink roses on cascading stems. I photographed the flowers on an overcast morning when there was still dew on the petals. While the background was out of focus, it didn’t add anything to the photo, and as I needed a photo to demonstrate texture blending for one of my photo clubs I decided to add a texture to the background.
I chose a texture that I had and changed the color tones of it using a Photoshop hue/saturation layer linked to the texture layer. I blended it with the roses using a soft brush at low opacity and brushed in some of the leaves to give what I thought was the right amount of foliage. The overall brightness and contrast of the rose plant were adjusted using a curves layer.
Settings: 1/160 sec, f/9, ISO 250. Nikon D800 with Nikon 105 mm micro lens.
Matilija Poppy, June 14, 2021
“Matilija Poppy in Black and White.” I have a section of my garden by a wall that is devoted to Matilija poppies. They are a native species that can be hard to grow, but many years ago I had a volunteer sprout in my garden and the plants have spread over the years. When they bloom, the scent on a sunny day fills the area, drawing in the honey bees.
For this photo, I cut the blossom and set it up inside near a window. I consider this a test processing in B&W and plan on working on more of my photos from this session. I used Nik software to do the B&W conversion and for this version wanted to make the flower appear delicate.
Settings: 0.25 sec, f/16, ISO 100. Nikon D800 with Nikon 105 mm micro lens, Manfrotto tripod.
Red Rose, June 13, 2021
“A Red Rose.” Lee had given me a bouquet of red roses, so of course I wanted to photograph them! I most liked the image shown of one rose laying on a piece of heavy gold paper using afternoon window light coming in from behind me. I had to move around to find reflections that I liked. I used a photo of out-of-focus Christmas lights blended in for a background texture.
Settings: 0.4 seconds, f/16, ISO 160. Nikon D800 with 105 mm Nikon micro lens, Manfrotto tripod.
A Very Wet Song Sparrow, June 02, 2021
“A Very Wet Song Sparrow.” This Song Sparrow doesn’t look too happy! I didn’t see the bird take a bath, but he or she is the wettest sparrow I’ve ever seen. The feathers on the head and breast are all bunched together and the tail feathers look ragged. Maybe this is what having kids does to a bird parent? It was a June gloom morning with the marine layer so it might have taken a while for the sparrow to dry out.
Settings: Nikon D800E with Nikon 200-500 mm lens; f/6.3, 1/1600 sec, ISO 1000. Handheld.
Western Tanager, May 27, 2021
“Western Tanager.” I was fortunate to have the opportunity to bird one of the local golf courses early one morning. As there were miles of the course to cover, most of the birds were identified by song while we were in the golf cart. However, as we were returning to the club house, two bright birds caught my eye. One flew off, but the second male Western Tanager stayed at the pond long enough for me to photograph him drinking. These migrating birds are usually high in the trees so it was a treat to be slightly above one of them with a clear view. I had to darken the rock in front of the bird as it was too bright and distracting.
Settings: Nikon D800E with Nikon 200-500 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500 sec, ISO1000. Handheld while sitting in a golf cart.
Alstroemeria Flowers, May 22, 2021
“Alstroemeria Flowers.” I thought these Alstroemeria flowers would be a good subject, so I picked them from my garden and set them up inside to use window light. I combined 2 photos taken when focusing on different flowers to increase the number of flowers in focus (focus stacking), then added the texture background. I blended the texture with the flowers using a large, soft brush, adding more texture over the flowers in the background to increase the sense of depth. I slightly changed the color of the background texture by linking a hue/saturation layer to it so that it would better match the color of the flowers, and increased the brightness of the flowers with a linked curves adjustment layer.
Settings: Nikon D800 with Nikon 105 mm macro lens; f/14, 1/10 sec, ISO 160. The camera was mounted on a tripod and the self-timer setting was used to eliminate camera shake.
Bearded Iris, May 09, 2021
“Bearded Iris.” I love spring flowers and was excited to see that some of my heirloom bearded irises were in bud and then in bloom this year. They need winter chill and as we don’t always have enough cold here, I have them planted in a raised bed in the coldest part of my yard to maximize the coolness. Interestingly, this is the only variety that blooms.
The iris are planted among other plants, resulting in a cluttered look to the photo. Making a texture photo is perfect for this type of situation, and I photographed the irises with this in mind. The main plant had 2 flowers, but the taller one never quite opened as it had a damaged petal. I photographed a similar flower from another plant at the same angle, then did a composite by adding the good flower over the straggly flower. I did some retouching of the flowers and leaves and added the texture layer. I blended the background texture with the flowers using a soft brush and low opacity, painting in the texture along the edges. I added a curves adjustment layer for the flower layer only and increased the brightness until the flowers glowed.
Settings: Nikon D800 with Nikon 105 mm macro lens. f/8.0, 1/200 sec, ISO 200. Handheld.
Monarch Butterfly, May 08, 2021
“Monarch Butterfly.” This spring I had an explosion of monarch caterpillars. I ended up raising 11 caterpillars but I estimate that there were at least 80 caterpillars on my plants. I kept finding chrysalles in my yard, a bright green earring hanging from all sorts of places. Some did not make it as the caterpillars had become tachnid fly larvae hosts, which is why I raised some caterpillars in enclosures.
The monarch butterfly shown in the photo is one that I raised. I like to release them in the afternoon when it is warm out and on a nectar flower (Verbena bonariensis in this case). This female paused and posed for a minute before flying off to her new life. I did a little retouching of the background to fill in a few gaps and removed a distracting flower stalk.
Settings: Nikon D800 with Nikon 105 mm macro lens, f/9.0, 1/200 sec, ISO 160. Handheld.
Geranium Multiexposure, April 23, 2021
“Geranium Multiexposure.” I challenged myself to do a short photo session sitting on the bench on my patio, where I have some plants in pots and planters. I tried different compositions of flowers but thought they were rather mundane. I then explored different ways of doing multi-exposure or long exposure images where I would move the camera. I finally chose the geranium multi-exposure image where I had focused on one flower. As it was a bit windy the flower moved around for some of the exposures, so it is not as evenly spaced as usual between each shutter release (9 exposures total; the camera compiles them together automatically). I cropped the image and then did dodging and burning to bring out more texture and contrast while also keeping some areas soft.
Settings: Nikon D800 with Nikon 105 mm Micro lens; f/6.3, 1/125 sec, ISO 200. Handheld.
Song Sparrow Fledgling, April 16, 2021
“Fledgling Sparrow.” One of the benefits of welcoming wildlife to my garden is having some of the resident birds bring their fledglings to my yard. Every year a Song Sparrow family leads their youngsters to my yard, where the fledglings stay until the male chases them off once they are able to fend for themselves. This spring two fledglings appeared, almost a week apart in age. Shown here is the younger one on the first day he or she showed up. Usually the young birds are very shy and stay hidden for the first few days, but this one was rather bold for its age, perhaps because it had to compete with its much older sibling for food and attention. The parents immediately gathered dried meal worms that I put out every morning and stuffed them into the hungry open mouths of their young. While its sibling has dark streaks on its breast, this youngster has few of those markings yet.
Settings: Nikon D800E with Nikon 200-500 mm lens, f/6.3, 1/1600 sec, ISO 640.
Chipping Sparrow in Redbud Tree, April 8, 2021
“Sparrow in a Redbud Tree.” It had been over a year since I last participated in an Audubon birding outing, and it was good to see other folk and learn about the birds we saw during our walk. I had never been to Buddy Todd Park in Oceanside, and while it is small it has a nice mix of songbirds, raptors and views. It was a very leisurely outing so I had time to photograph some of the birds. This chipping sparrow was busily foraging in a redbud tree and only posed for one frame, showing off many of his or her ID features. I had been trying this spring to photograph birds on a flowering tree or branch and finally was able to accomplish my goal.
Settings: Nikon D800E with Nikon 200-500 mm lens, f/6.3, 1/1600 sec, ISO 400, using a monopod.
Red-shouldered Hawk, April 3, 2021
“Red-shouldered Hawk.” I think red-shouldered hawks are the most beautiful of our local hawks and maybe the most vocal. The definitive red color can be seen clearly beneath their wings as well. In early spring I often hear them calling loudly in the neighborhood as they prepare for raising a family. Nests are usually built with sticks high up in a tall tree. This bird flew off its perch and I was able to make some photos as he or she circled me once before flying away. I have learned that I need a rather fast shutter speed to get a sharp flying hawk image.
Settings: Nikon D800E with a 200-500 mm lens; 1/2500 sec, f 6.3, ISO 640.
Song Sparrow, March 20-30, 2021
“Scratch Art Song Sparrow.” I liked the pose of this song sparrow when I photographed him earlier this year in my yard, but the light was coming from my left, or at about 5 o’clock to the forward direction of the bird. . I decided to use one of the Photoshop artistic filters, then converted that to black and white to give the image a scratchboard look. It took about 20 layers, working in sections with gradients and other adjustments, to change the lighting on the sparrow to emphasize his face and breast.
Settings of original photo: Nikon D800E with Nikon 200-500 mm lens; 1/1600 sec, f/6.3, ISO 500, handheld.
Hummingbird, March 21, 2021
“Pop Art Hummingbird.” Sometimes I like to see what the Photoshop artistic filters can do with an image. I selected a photo of a male Allen’s Hummingbird that I had made earlier this year in my yard and applied the “Glowing Edges” filter to it. While I’ve never had much use for this filter before, I thought it worked well with this colorful, high-detail image. I adjusted the filter sliders, and then the blend mode. The tail didn’t have any detail, so I had to use a different blend mode and copy that tail version onto the rest of the bird.
Settings of original photo: Nikon D800E with Nikon 200-500 mm lens; 1/1600 sec, f/7.1, ISO 400, handheld.
Monarch Butterfly, March 13, 2021
“The Monarch and the Calendula.” At least 2 female monarchs laid many eggs on my tropical milkweed plants this winter, and I raised some of the resulting caterpillars in order to protect them from the tachnid flies. So far I have released 16 butterflies, and I try to photograph each one after its release if he or she does not immediately fly away. This female hung out on a calendula flower for less than ten minutes before flying off, which can be a relatively short period of time for recently emerged monarchs. I took many frames in order to have her completely in focus, which was not easy with the afternoon breeze blowing her about. Because of my depth of field I was not able to totally blur the background, so I did that in post-processing by applying a Gaussian blur to the background but not the monarch or her flower perch. I also selectively darkened sections of the background so that it would complement and not compete with the butterfly.
Settings: Nikon D800 with Nikon 105 mm macro lens, f/8.0, 1/400 sec, ISO 125, hand held.
Cymbidium Orchid, March 6-7, 2021
“Amaranthine Friends.” Wanting to produce one image a week can be motivating, and for this week I decided to create an image from my garden. I went out in the late afternoon and tried a number of compositions and techniques, ultimately choosing a cymbidium orchid photo. While photographing, I knew that the plant and flowers had some distracting components but might work well for a blended image, so I left room on the left side of the photo for text. In Photoshop I had to do some retouching to the flowers, as it had rained and a few of the petals had spots on them. I selected the flowers and leaves and blended them in with the background texture using a large, soft brush. This worked much better than if I had used a nice background when photographing the flowers, as this way I could selectively integrate the photo with the background and eliminate all of the distracting parts of the plant. I learned blending techniques last year in an excellent webinar and purchased material from Matt Kloskowski (mattk.com). I then looked through flower quotes and used a free gold font color for the text.
Settings of originial photo: Nikon D800E with Nikon 200-500 mm lens; 1/1600 sec, f/7.1, ISO 400, handheld.
Abstract No. 3, February 24, 2021
“Four Touchdowns in Four Quarters.” I thought a photo of Stargazer Lilies blooming in my garden might be a good candidate for doing another rotate and blend photo. The version I’m showing here used a normal blend mode, preserving the natural colors of the flowers. It reminds me of a kaleidoscope mirrored in such a way to produce four quarters of the same image. The flower stamens and stigmas at each corner look like little bug referees with little bug antennas declaring touchdowns. Superbowl LV had just been played when I created this image, and wouldn’t you know that Tampa Bay won with four touchdowns in four quarters!
Settings: Nikon D800 with Nikon 105 mm micro lens; 1/125 sec, f/7.1, ISO 400.
California Scrub Jay, February 20, 2021
“Romancing the Acorn.” I had met a friend for an outdoor lunch and chat at a local park, and of course I brought my camera. We ate at a picnic table near a creek, and it was interesting how many birds I saw just sitting there. A California scrub jay spent a few minutes in a nearby oak, looking for its acorn lunch. I was able to capture the moment as the jay was poised to take the acorn—like a jeweler ready to grasp a precious stone in precision forceps. While I love this moment, the oak branches were a bit distracting in the photo, so I toned them down by darkening them and doing some retouching of the leaves and branches.
Settings: Nikon 200-500 mm with a Nikon D800E; 1/1000 sec, f/6.3, ISO 1000.
Abstract No. 2, February 12-13, 2021
“Hot Plate.” This week’s image was made after learning a new technique and applying it to last week’s image, producing a kind of ceramic effect, like a tile fired in a kiln with rare earth metallic glazes. “Dandelion Dancer” was replicated and flipped to make four copies, then the whole image copied, rotated 90 degrees and a blend mode applied between the layers. After cropping to a square, I changed the color palette and then worked on lightening and darkening different areas and doing some very select retouching. This brought back memories of coloring and making Spirograph drawings as a child, and I found it to be a very engaging and relaxing image to make.
I was inspired to try this after recently attending one of Larry Vogel’s online “Photoshop on the Fly” morning sessions. I have been a regular since last summer and have learned an incredible amount of Photoshop from him, as he is truly a Photoshop guru who likes to teach. He also offers classes and monthly critique sessions, so if you are interested in improving your Photoshop skills check out his website at: https://www.lavogel.com/index.html.
Settings: f7/1, 1/125 sec, ISO 320, 9 photos combined in-camera; Nikon D800 with a Nikon 105 mm Micro lens, post-processed with Photoshop tools and effects.
Abstract No. 1, February 6, 2021
“Dandelion Dancer.” I had a small flowering branch from an Evergreen Pear to photograph. With so many small white flowers it was rather busy, and I finally tried one of my favorite abstract techniques: in-camera multiple exposures. I never quite know what the result will be. Sometimes it is beautiful and other times it is not worth pursuing. I hand-hold the camera, setting the exposure to what works for one frame; then, I tell the camera the number of frames (2-9) I wish to take. For this image, I focused on the center of one flower, then slightly rotated the camera counterclockwise for each shot, for a total of 9 shots. I then let the camera do the magic of combining them all, and in a few seconds viewed the result. I like the painterly feel to this image, but I also boosted the contrast in Photoshop while removing most of the small dots from the stamens of the flowers using the spot healing brush tool.
Just-bloomed desert dandelion flowers display a little red heart in their centers and when they come of age pirouette in the wind into the blue sky.
Settings: f7/1, 1/125 sec, ISO 320, 9 photos combined in-camera; Nikon D800 with a Nikon 105 mm Micro lens.
Allen’s Hummingbird, January 24 and 25, 2021
“Before and After.” We finally had a steady rain storm after a long, dry summer and fall! In years past, I have noticed that all kinds of birds seem to enjoy the first rainstorm of a season with many venturing boldly into the big drops for a shower. This handsome male Allen’s Hummingbird had already been working on his best look, for example swooping about his favorite perch near his feeder to catch the eyes of a would-be admiring female. He spent a good length of time taking his little shower, giving me time to ponder how to photograph him without disturbing him. I was able to open the kitchen window, propping my camera on a monopod with its foot in the sink. This forced me to stand on a chair in front of the sink to work the camera on the monopod; fortunately, the hummingbird didn’t seem to mind the commotion. The rain clouds had darkened the sky considerably, so I had to use a high ISO and low shutter speed to capture a sharp image of this beautiful bird who was moving about very quickly to wash his feathers, not only for the ladies but to rid parasites which can infest their wings. The second photo was taken the next morning. There was beautiful light for a few minutes as the storm was clearing. The same hummingbird looked extra shiny and clean! I liked the way his colors naturally matched the background.
Settings: Hummingbird in the rain: 1/650 sec, f/5.6, ISO 1600; Nikon D800 and Nikon 200-500 mm on a monopod.
Settings: Hummingbird in the sun: 1/1000 sec, f/5.6, ISO 800; Nikon D800 and Nikon 200-500 mm.
Anna’s Hummingbird at Succulent Flower, January 21, 2021
“Swan Dive.” It was a quiet morning at a local park, but this male Anna’s hummingbird was the star, earning a perfect 10 from all the judges. Before this spectacular display, there had been another male hummingbird (an Allen’s hummingbird, in fact) who had been guarding this patch of succulent flowers from a perch in a nearby tree. He flew off, and our star flew in. He quickly started taking nectar and, voila, I was able to capture a number of photos with him at the flower. I chose this frame, his best wing position (at least I think so!) A few scene improvements were then made for best appreciation: there was a distracting, out-of-focus stalk behind him which I removed with software so he could stand out against an uncluttered background. A couple of other minor distractions were also removed by simply cropping the image.
Settings: Nikon D800E, 200-500 mm Nikon lens, 1/1600 sec, f/6.3, ISO 500.
Burrowing Owl, January 7, 2021
“The Owl with the Smoking Gun.” Or, is that a feather he’s smoking? This satisfied-looking burrowing owl was photographically ‘caught with the goods’ one morning at a protected lagoon. I was leading a social distancing photography outing at the lagoon for one of the photo clubs I belong to. A few members of the club had already looked unsuccessfully for the owl earlier that morning, but fortunately he did appear from his burrow after I arrived. Hmm…it looks like he could have been dining on a bird. Male burrowing owls are known to occasionally hunt birds, and this owl has all the tellings of a bird of another feather, even the evidence of blood on its feet—er, its talons!
Settings: 1/1600 sec, f/7.1, ISO 400. I used my 200-500 mm lens on a monopod and crouched down to eye level.
Western Bluebird, January 2, 2021
The title of this photo is “Undecided.” This blueish-reddish male had remained on the fence long enough for a few photos—not surprising in the 2020 election year with all those blue and red choices! The bulk of his little flock of western bluebirds had taken up the garden nearby and were rather shy. He was in deep shade with the background partly in sun, which posed a slight technical problem with the exposure. I was able to post-process the photo to lighten the bird without lightening the background using Photoshop. This was possible because I shot the image in RAW and considering that my initial exposure was based on my histogram such that neither the light nor the dark values of the photo were clipped.
Photographed in the ABDNA (Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association) garden, Palm Canyon Road, Borrego Springs, California.
Settings: 1/800 sec, f/6.3, ISO 1000. A monopod was used with a Nikon 200-500 mm lens and Nikon D800E.