Milpitas Bald Eagles–Lessons Relearned


Storyline:

Bald Eagles and Ospreys are making a comeback around the San Francisco Bay. Recent environmental regulations, the 1960s movement to “Save The Bay”, and the ending of DDT and other pesticides have made an impact. They are now fish, particularly Striped Bass in the Bay, for these raptors to feed on. The parents also bring them ducks and other waterfowl, and ground squirrels that inhabit the canals around the south bay.

My goal was to capture a recently fledged Bald Eagle in flight. This juvenile eagle was born this year with another chick in a nest in a large redwood tree. This was the fourth year that the parents had nested in this redwood tree. The nest is in a grove of redwood trees in front of the Curtner Elementary School in Milpitas, CA. This location is on the southeastern side of San Francisco Bay.

There were 50 photographers around the July 4th weekend. However, it pays to get there early. I have been getting up at 4:30 AM to be at the location at 6:00 AM. Few photographers were this early.


This morning, the juvenile, named “CORONA” or its sister named “COVID” circled the nest and the group of redwood trees. The first pass was just before the rising sun hit high up on the top branches. These images lack life and the eagle subject was dark. During the second pass around the trees, the first rays of light hit this juvenile bald eagle. The light changed this fast, fast as it took time for another circle. I got the forward circular thrust of the wings, the call and cry of the juvenile, and just a touch of the first rays of sunlight!

Many of us have been going to this location for a few years. The comradery, the getting to know each other better, have filled in the boredom of waiting for the parents to come back with food for these juveniles. We wear our masks and practice social distancing. Sometimes it’s hard to hear each other through the masks. It’s something we all have gotten used to in the world of Covid-19.


We have a lot of feelings for these two sisters’ bald eagles: Covid and Corona. It seems they might make it on their own. I haven’t been there since Friday, because they are ranging farther afield and the photographic opportunities are less and less, as they move away from the safety of the nest. I might check in there tomorrow morning and see how they are doing. It was incredible to see them soar for the first time; they used the thermals to go high into the sky. These juvenile bald eagles just need to learn to hunt on their own, and they too like their parents can grace the skies of the south bay.


Lessons Relearned:

1) It was hard tracking the eagles, even though they are big birds. I relearned that I need to make sure my lens’ distance focusing range setting was set to the “distance” setting of 16 mm to infinity, for focusing farther away. Limiting the focusing range was key to locking focus on the flying eagles. This way my camera did not have to go through the whole focusing range of the lens and “hunt” for the subject.

If I am in a blind shooting birds at close distances, then I set my focusing range on my telephoto lens to the minimum range of 5.5 meters to 16.2 meters (For A Canon 600 mm f4.0 IS lens). I adjust the focusing range depending on the photographic situation and how far my subjects will be from me. For the eagles flying at distance, I set the lens focusing range to 16.2 meters to Infinity. My auto-focusing tracking was much better, and I was more able to stay focused on the eagles in flight.

2) I also change my focusing setting in my Canon 7D Mark II camera body, specifically the AF tracking and locking on the subject settings after purchasing Glen Bartley’s 7D Mark II guide. With these new settings, my focusing locks on better and gains focus quicker. Therefore, more quality keepers. These are the settings he recommends for the Canon 7D Mark II. Yet the principals apply to other Canon models and other manufacturers’ camera bodies.

a) Tracking Sensitivity: If the AF point is tracking one subject and see another, how will it respond to the new subject? It’s best to stay “locked on”, set tracking sensitivity to “-1” or “-2”.

b) Accelerating/Decelerating Tracking: Set to “0” for steadily moving subjects. Set to “1” or “2” for subjects that have more stop-start characteristics.

c) AF Point auto-switching: How fast does the camera switch from one point to another point as the subject moves around the frame? If using over one point like Zone AF or Expand AF, for Birds in Flight, it’s best to lock early on the subject and hold focus as the bird approaches, set to “0” or “1” if using Expand AF area with 4 points. For small birds with erratic flight, using Expand AF area with 9 points, use a setting of “2”. So, if the camera’s focus loses one point, the AF focusing can switch to another point easily. *


3) Getting up early and seeing this gorgeous early morning light jogged my memory and brought home the realization that low angled early morning and late evening light is sweet light. This light can make an image glow with beauty. Being a primary factor and the difference between a good image and a great one. As a night person, I am discovering the treasures of getting up early!


*AF Tracking Information in 2a, 2b, 2c came primarily from Glenn Barkley’s Canon 7DMark II camera guide. You can purchase here for $5.00 http://www.glennbartley.com/Canon7DmarkIISetupGuide.html

Practicing Photography Close To Home

 

Practicing Photography Close To Home

(Zoo Photography)
The Bald Eagle Look
The Bald Eagle Look

Fantastic animal and bird photography can be done close to home. You don’t have to travel to faraway lands. I am advocating for taking images in your backyard and at local wild areas around where you live. Of course, if you love wildlife and can afford to go, a safari to Africa is a trip of a lifetime. So yes, definitely go if you can, but if you can’t travel to these iconic wildlife destinations. Concentrate on practicing your craft locally. Even if you are in an urban area, there are still places to go. One of my places to practice nature photography is at your local zoo.

Prairie Dogs Show Affection
Prairie Dogs Show Affection

Now, I am not a supporter of having animals in small cages or animals treated without care, dignity, and proper respect. Wildlife Parks and zoos have become much better recently at providing good care for animals that cannot be released to the wild. In fact, I would not go to or support, any place that mistreats animals within their care. Most of us can go to local wildlife areas, preserves, shorelines, parks, preserves without the exorbitant costs of foreign travel. Here in the Bay Area, we have been blessed with a large green belt that surrounds our mostly urban areas. The San Francisco Bay itself provides great shorebird photography opportunities, being a special place on the western migration route of many birds.

Even if you are planning a trip abroad or to Africa, a trip to your local zoo, can be beneficial. By learning a new camera’s menu and controls of a recently purchased camera body, so when you get to Africa you are not fumbling with these controls and making the wrong settings decisions. Practice makes perfect or at least gets photographers a long way towards making great images. The process of photography and making images becomes second nature with practice, and allows you to be in that focused Zen-like state of total concentration.

The Face Of A Ring-tailed Lemur
The Face Of A Ring-tailed Lemur

For beginners especially, a local zoo can be a great place to learn, improve, and develop your technical as well as your visual skills. My favorite technique is to use a 600 mm lens to isolate subjects and remove the man-made elements that you naturally find at zoos. I have used this lens for a long time and have had much practice with it.

Male Peacock Portrait
Male Peacock Portrait

In fact, these type of images has become a calling card—my style. One problem with long lenses is the weight, and thus I have a special cart(1) that I can wheel around with my lens, tripod, and camera, securely tied down, and ready to use at a moment’s notice. This allows me to create engaging animal portraits, without showing the hand of man.

The composition of animal portraits is very similar to that of people portraits. What to include and what to exclude decisions, posing, and the position of the animal in the frame, as well as learning how light affects your final image. Making decisions on aperture, exposure, and which shutter speed and ISO combination to use, all the while waiting for the decisive moment to occur. With the goal to capture arresting behavior and interesting facial expressions. Focusing is another element where practicing is essential. Decisive or peak moments of action and behavior are fleeting and almost split second in nature, with practice, you can capture a great percentage of these moments. Before taking that once in a lifetime trip to exotic lands like Africa, go to your local zoo or wildlife preserve and enhance your skills by practicing. I have included some of my best zoo images here for review so you can see for yourself that works of art and wonderful portraits of animals are possible.

Golden Eagle Head Shoulder Portrait
Golden Eagle Head Shoulder Portrait

Become experience and competent with your camera, develop and improve your skills before you go to Africa, you will be rewarded that you did make this effort and happy taking the time to do so.

If you love wildlife photography like I do, then, you’ll have fun and the exciting experience watching your efforts come alive as works of art that “sings with beauty”.

(1) http://www.eckla.de/en/eckla-beach-rolly.html

Meercat Resting On The Back Of Another
Meercat Resting On The Back Of Another
Female Gorilla Eats With Her Fingers
Female Gorilla Eats With Her Fingers

 

 

 

Reviewing Images

A Second and Third Look
Through Your Images

After a long trip to Africa or Alaska, where you have taken many images, and hopefully some specials ones. Upon first review, you go through your images and think you got all the best ones marked out. Sometimes you are so excited you potentially could miss an image that’s really a star. One of the best ones of your trip.

Bald Eagle In Flight
Bald Eagle In Flight

I actually flagged this one and rated it, but never did anything with it until now. Sometime a second pass, or a third pass through your images after a reflective period of time gives you some gems out of rough stones that are most of your raw captures.

This image is one of my best Bald eagle in flight images. I would not have recognized it as a jewel, if I did not go through my 2014 Alaska trip images a second and a third time.

Also, with the advance in post-processing techniques, sometimes an image doesn’t appear at first glance to be something that can be truly great. Now, I look at raw files from the point of view of what is possible and how I can make the image closer to what I saw at the moment of capture.

So it pays sometimes not to give up on an image, and to keep your raw files instead of permanently deleting them.

With storage so cheap, you can keep the rejects as long as you want. One of my friends, use to laugh at me for keeping all my slides, even the ones that were a bit blurry. She would be laughing at me now as well.

Here though I found an image that I really like. One that I could have easily deleted and been gone forever. With technology forever changing and getting better, it pays not to be too hasty in deleting images.

I am going to get a scanner soon, and scan some of my old slides, ones that have the prospects and could become great with a little post-processing miracle.

I just can hear my friend saying, “yeah, really” to this, knowing that I probably never will. We will see…

Procedure To Darken Or Lighten Areas Within An Image

Procedure to Darken or Lighten Areas within an Image

By Bruce Finocchio

(Dodging and Burning Tip For Photoshop)

  1. Open Image Within Photoshop
  2. Hold Down Alt Key while clicking on New Layer Icon in Layers Palette
  3. Within New Layer Dialog Box Select Soft Light or Overlay Mode
  4. Check the Fill With Overlay or Soft Light Neutral Color 50% Gray Box, this will create a new layer filled with 50% Gray in the Layers palette
  5. Set Foreground Color: Black to Darken, White to Lighten (To switch from black to white or back, click the little rotating arrow on the top left of the black and white color box in the tool palette)
  6. Select Brush Tool, and size and type depending on area to dodge and burn (Use keyboard shortcut: open “[” bracket to decrease brush size, and close bracket “]” to increase brush size)
  7. Change Brush Opacity to 10 to 20, the sets the strength effect; these are general settings and can use more or less if desired (The lower opacity setting the lesser the effect)
  8. Paint areas where change is needed, key is to be very subtle, don’t overdo
  9. Click on the Dodge and Burn (Gray Filled) Layer Eye Icon to Observe the Changes

Close up of Original image without any darkening or lightening adjustments.

Using the above procedure I lighten the iris of the eye and darkened the pupil for added contrast. I also lighten some of the face feathers around the eye. The effect is subtle but yet enhances the photo, making the eye dramatically stand out.
“After all, the eye is the light of life”.

(Original image After Post Processing)
What do you think?

  • This Procedure I learned from Tim Grey many years ago….