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]
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.