Archive for November, 2007

Great Places to Photograph Nature and Wildlife (Part 2)

November 26, 2007

The Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, Brigantine Division, in Oceanville, New Jersey is well known by naturalists, birdwatchers, photographers and serious outdoor enthusiasts as one of the best places in the United States to see and photograph great concentrations of waterfowl, wading birds and shorebirds.

The federal Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that more than 200,000 people pass through the area annually, making it one of the most heavily visited refuges in the nation. Despite these numbers, Brigantine remains a relatively isolated enclave. During a recent mid-week visit to photograph waterfowl, there were fewer than a dozen cars on the only public road through the refuge, an eight-mile tour road.

For many visitors, the highlight of the year at Brigantine is the arrival of the snow geese in November and December. Each year as many as 60,000 geese converge on the 20,197 acre refuge. Snow geese are not the only spectacle at Brigantine in the Fall. Green-winged teal, black ducks , pintails, widgeons, mallards, shovelers and even bald eagles visit the refuge at this time of year. Another magnificent sight on the refuge is when eagles dive down on the resting snow geese, scattering sometimes as many as 15,000 birds into the air at once.

In addition to the wildlife observation and photography opportunities during the Fall, be sure to catch the big spring migration of waterfowl, shorebirds and wading birds in April and May. It is surely a sight to behold.

You can have a field day with photography at Brigantine. You will need a digital SLR or a 35mm film camera equipped with telephoto lenses in the range of 100 to 600mm. For flight shots, an 80-200mm or 70-300mm zoom lens may be the best choice to provide the great depth of field needed to capture flocks of waterfowl in flight. It is a good idea to use ISO speeds in the range of 200 to 400 to keep your shutter speeds as high as possible to stop action and subject movement.

The technique I use to photograph wildlife at Brigantine is to use my vehicle as a blind and drive the tour road. I have been known to drive the one-way 8 mile tour road as many as 1o times in a day. I place my camera and long 500mm telephoto lens on a bean bag ready to shoot. On the passenger seat, I have a second camera with a 100-300 zoom lens ready for flight shots or subjects that appear at closer distances. Persistence pays off in wildlife photography. By employing this strategy, I usually come home from Brigantine with dozens of publishable quality images.

The Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, Brigantine Division is located 11 miles north of Atlantic City. From the Garden State Parkway take exit 48 to Route 9 South and travel 10 miles to Oceanville. For further information or to obtain a calendar of events, visit the refuge’s website at: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/forsythe/

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Great Places to Photograph Nature and Wildlife (Part 1)

November 20, 2007

One of the pleasures of nature and wildlife photography is it can be enjoyed almost anywhere. I live in Northern New Jersey, which is usually not recognized as a nature photography hotspot. In many ways, I’m fortunate to live in New Jersey because I have to work really hard to create quality images. A good nature photographer can produce high quality marketable images no matter where they live-even in their own backyards.

When I first started photographing nature some 20 years ago, I was under the impression the best images were made by traveling to the most exotic locations. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Many of the photographs I made in Yellowstone, Yosemite, Everglades, and Grand Canyon National Parks looked too similar to those shot by thousands of other photographers shooting the same subjects in the same locations. My work lacked originality.

The quality of my photographs improved dramatically when I began to photograph close to home. I try to get out with my cameras every day. This is made possible by the fact my shooting location (The Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge) is just a fifteen minute drive from my residence. Over the course of the first few months photographing at the Great Swamp, I was able to predict the exact spots my wildlife subjects would appear and at what time of day they would do so. Keeping to a daily shooting schedule for the past three years has allowed me to capture some beautiful wildlife portraits.

Listed below, are some equipment suggestions and shooting tips for the Great Swamp.

Location: Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, New Jersey

  • Preferred lenses: 200 mm macro, 300 mm, 500 mm or a zoom covering this range
  • Hit and miss location but if you are persistent you will be rewarded with some outstanding imagery of amphibians, birds, white-tailed deer, reptiles and small mammals
  • Good chance of photographing wood ducks and bluebirds (large populations reside here)
  • All seasons can be productive except late winter but you will need to arrive early and stay late
  • The trails at the Wildlife Observation Center and The Auto Tour Road are your best bets
  • Avoid the weekends during periods of nice weather

Note: This blog article is the first part in a series on great locations for nature photography

The Importance of Photo Education

November 14, 2007

As I write this blog entry, I can’t help but reflect back on my twelve years as a Photography Instructor and the hundreds of students I have inspired, taught, and motivated. When I started teaching back in 1994, we were all using film. Digital imaging has added a new dimension to the teaching of photography. Today’s students are using digital cameras exclusively, and for the most part, are struggling to learn the new technology.

Photographers in the year 2007 and beyond need to be both visual artists and computer technicians. Digital cameras which are part computer and part camera are highly sophisticated tools which confuse many people. Image capture and knowing how to use a digital camera is only the first part of the photographic learning process which has many other components such as mastering image editing software, color management, home printing and downloading images to a personal or public website. Needless to say, being computer literate is a requirement for all serious digital photographers.

Interest in digital imaging which includes all the components listed above has filled up classrooms all over the county and has created a resurgence in photo education. Most beginning and intermediate level photographers show a strong preference to learning digital imaging in a classroom setting led by a qualified instructor. It is extremely important for students to seek out an instructor who has professional experience in the area of photography they are most interested in. In my case, I specialize in nature and outdoor photography which I have a real passion for. My enthusiasm for outdoor photography is contagious.

Since digital photography can be technical and a bit intimidating, it’s important that the instructor be able to implement strategies which allow for the learning of technical material in a fun, relaxed manner. A good photo class will also include time spent in the field practicing the theories learned in the classroom. A field workshop allows the instructor to provide immediate feedback to students in areas such as lighting, exposure, composition and lens selection. In addition to the above, students are able to watch the instructor at work and learn from what he or she may be doing. In my workshops, students tell me one of the things they enjoy most is watching me find and pick effective compositions from ordinary scenes they would have walked right by.

If you are new to digital photography it would be in your interest to sign up for a photo class. You will save a lot of time, frustration and expense from having to learn on your own by trial and error.

Nikon 105 2.8 Macro, VR AFS, Quick Field Review

November 12, 2007

I enjoy close-up and macro photography. I own Nikon’s spectacular 200mm f4 AF macro lens and the 60mm 2.8 macro. I have been curious to see how the new 105VR compares to these other lenses in terms of optical quality, handling, and use as both a macro and portrait lens.

The 105VR is loaded with features. It has Nano crystal coating, an ED glass element, Vibration Reduction, Internal Focusing, and a Silent Wave AF motor. The lens comes supplied with a very substantial lens shade which is necessary due to the exposed front element. The front lens element is not recessed like it is on Nikon’s other two macro lenses.

Having used the 105VR in the field for a few days, here are my observations: The lens handles extremely well despite the fact that it’s rather large and bulky. The build quality is very high, better than the 60 but not as good as the 200 macro. The weight and balance of the lens on the camera was near perfect, better than my other two macros. I enjoyed carrying it, even after a full day of shooting. The VR, focus limiter and AF/manual control switches are all well placed and convenient to use. I would rate handling as one of the lenses best attributes.

On a DX camera, the effective focal length of the lens is 158mm. For close-up and macro photography this is an ideal focal length to work with. Working distance in the macro range falls between the 60mm and 200mm. I found the 158mm focal length a little long when it comes to portrait and landscape photography. Being an outdoor photographer, I can work around this problem by zooming with my feet (physically moving further away or closer to my subject).

The Vibration Reduction feature works great at distances of about ten feet and further from your subject. It is progressively less effective the closer you get to your subject. In the true macro range, VR should be turned off and the camera and lens locked down on a sturdy tripod. Although Nikon says VR offers 4 f stops of improvement over hand-holding, my tests showed more like a 2 to 3 stop improvement.

Silent Wave focusing is a feature I wish all my other lenses had. The 105VR is fast to focus and is extremely quiet. I did experience some focus hunting but nothing I would consider to be problematic. As is the case with VR, AFS focusing should be turned off when working in the macro range.

The lens is sharp at apertures from f2.8 all the way to f16. I really like the color rendition of this lens. The colors seem to be more punchy than some of my older Nikon lenses. In comparing the 105VR to the Nikon 105 2.8AF lens I did not see any differences in terms of sharpness. As far as the 60mm 2.8 macro is concerned, I would give a an edge to the 105VR. When comparing it to the 200 f4 AF macro, I found the 105mm to be as sharp or perhaps even a little sharper.

The 105VR macro lens is well worth the money considering its versatility, feature set, build quality, and optical performance. If you are in the market for a great handling, multi-purpose macro and portrait lens this Nikon is the lens to beat.


Nikon D70S, Nikkor 105 2.8 Macro, VR AFS, (copyright) Adam Turow

A Foggy Morning at Morristown National Historical Park, NJ

November 12, 2007

Like many experienced photographers, I prefer to work in early morning and late afternoon light. In my opinion, the worse light for quality photography occurs on bright sunny days when there are no clouds. My absolute favorite time to be out in the field is on days when there is a light cover of fog. Besides adding a mood element to photographs, fog reduces contrast and enriches colors.

I have been planning a trip to Morristown National Historical Park for some time but the weather was not cooperating. I patiently waited for more favorable conditions. My intention was to photograph the park’s two horses that lived in a very scenic apple orchard.

When I heard the weather forecast for the next morning called for fog and cool temperatures, I changed my plans and scheduled my trip. Arriving as soon as the park opened at 8:00 A.M., I headed to my shooting location which I scouted a few weeks earlier. I needed to work quickly as the fog would soon burn away destroying the preconceived image I had in my mind. Using my first digital camera, a Nikon Coolpix 990 with a Nikon teleconverter lens, I photographed the horses in different positions and with different backgrounds. The one thing I did not want is for the horses to be looking at me or in my direction. I always prefer to capture animals doing their own thing undisturbed by my presence.

Of the series of photos I made that morning, the image with the two horses feeding stands out most due to their positions, the complementary background, the richly saturated colors, and the efect of the light fog.

Techniques and Comments:

I used a Nikon 990 Coolpix camera with a Nikon TC-3ED teleconverter lens for a combined focal length of approximately 300mm. The telephoto lens was necessary to bring the horses in closer and to lessen the depth of field in the image. I set my exposure compensation dial for two thirds of a stop over exposure to render the fog as a light tone. I supported my camera on a bean bag placed on a fence post.


Nikon VR 70-300 G-AFS f4.5-5.6 Quick Field Review

November 12, 2007

Many Nikon shooters including myself have been in need of a high quality telephoto zoom lens light enough to carry all day, sharp, fast focusing, reasonably priced and vibration reduction (VR) enabled. The lens would be an attractive alternative to the three-pound plus 70-200 f2.8 lenses for applications such as nature, sports, travel, and general walkaround photography. About a year ago, Nikon released such a lens: the VR 70-300 G-AFS f4.5-5.6.

I have been shooting travel, nature, and wildlife for fifteen years using Nikon’s 80-200 2.8 AF ED push pull lens. The 80-200 served me well for all those years and produced many of my best photographs. The only complaint I ever had was because of its weight I didn’t carry it all the time.

I enjoy hiking and backpacking photography and have been looking at acquiring some new equipment, which is lighter in weight and easy to carry. I like to use telephoto lenses for landscape photography. With this application in mind, I decided to try the VR 70-300 G AFS.

I like the focal length of this lens when used on a DSLR with a 1.5 crop factor. The effective focal length becomes a 105- 450mm f 4.6-5.6. Unless you have specialized needs in terms of low light action work this might be the only telephoto you will need.

I was concerned at first, the 70-300 might be too slow in speed compared to what I have been using. In practice, this turned out to be a non-issue since I almost always stop down to obtain depth of field in my landscape shots. As a way to compensate for subject movement and work more effectively in low light conditions with the slower lens, I increased the camera’s ISO to 400 which gives me an extra stop of light to photograph early and late in the day and keep my shutter speeds as high as possible.

The lens is a pleasure to carry and handling was fantastic. The weight of the lens felt great, just heavy enough to balance the camera in my hands and counter body movements and vibrations. The VR system worked as advertised. I was able to shoot at least three and possibly four f stops faster than I could have normally. You can expect sharp images at 1/15 second at 70 mm and 1/30 second at 300 mm on a consistent basis as long as proper hand-holding technique is employed. Needless to say, I was very comfortable leaving my tripod at home, especially when using the lens on brighter days.

When I downloaded the images from the 70-300 to my computer and viewed them for the first time, I was impressed. Sharpness, color, and contrast were all excellent comparing favorably with my other more expensive Nikon lenses. The quality of the out of focus areas of the photographs (brokeh) was very pleasing. Lens flare didn’t present a problem even when shooting without the supplied lens hood. When printed to size 13″ by 19″ the resulting prints were extremely sharp and detailed.

Test reports suggest the 70-300 VR needs to be stopped down to f 11 when zoomed out to 300 mm (450 effective focal length including the 1.5 crop factor) to maintain the degree of performance found at shorter focal lengths. My tests showed sharpness and contrast were both very good by f 8.

The one minor concern I had was the lens barrel extends noticeably while zooming and changing the zoom range was rather slow. The zoom ring felt stiff and tight. I understand Nikon designed the zoom mechanism this way to prevent zoom creep (The unintentional changing of the lens focal length due to gravity when a lens is pointed up or down).

In summary, I was extremely pleased with the overall performance of the VR 70-300. Its size, weight, optical quality, price, AFS and VR features make this one of the best buys in Nikon’s lens arsenal.

Nikon D70S, Nikkor VR 70-300G AFS, (copyright) Adam Turow

Canon Training Event, Coloradao Springs, CO

November 12, 2007

I recently had the opportunity to attend a training event sponsored by Canon in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The purpose of this event was to learn about the EOS 40D, Canon’s Digital Photo Professional Software, and their line of professional printers.

It was interesting to see how effective Canon has been in designing and integrating their cameras, editing software, and printers to work seamlessly together. From initial image acquisition, through photo editing to the printing of the final result, Canon is able to meet a photographer’s every need.

At this meeting, attendees were invited to a morning shoot at the Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado Springs. We were handed brand new EOS 40D cameras. My camera was shipped from Japan and carried serial number (30) along with any Canon lens we wanted to use. I chose a 24-105 IS L lens.

The new EOS 40D is a very impressive camera. The first things I noticed were its professional build quality, big viewfinder, and large 3” LCD. The camera felt great in my hands due to its size and rubber grip. I especially liked the way Canon designed the menu system and controls on this camera. A nice thing about the 40D and other EOS cameras is the level of image customization that Canon provides to the photographer. In the field, I was impressed on how quiet the shutter operated and how fast the continuous drive system worked. Equally impressive was the AF system, which has been further improved from the EOS 30D. Needless to say, the images I captured that morning were excellent in terms of resolution, color and contrast.

I enjoyed using Canon’s Digital Photo Professional Software which ships free with the EOS 40D and other EOS cameras. Digital Photo Professional is a RAW converter and imaging editing program which in many cases will meet all the needs of Canon photographers both amateur and professional. This software was so good I had little need to use Photoshop CS2, which was installed on my laptop computer.

I also had the chance to work with some of Canon’s professional printers: the PIXMA Pro9500, and the large format PROGRAF iPF6100. These printers turned out some great color prints that were dead-on accurate to my original files. The ability of the iPF6100 to print 16 bit files is a nice feature that helps improve the tonal gradations in a photograph. This was especially noticeable in how blue skies are rendered in landscape photos. The Pro9500 printer produced some of the nicest black and white prints I have ever seen from an ink jet system. Common to both printers was their speed and extremely quiet operation, which was a nice change from some other printers I have used in the past.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Photographs Can Be Made Anywhere

November 12, 2007

Creating high quality images on a consistent basis day after day is one of the most challenging aspects of professional photography. Add to the equation the need to identify good subjects in ideal light in not the best of locations and the challenge the photographer faces may be one of frustration.

 A good photographer can overcome obstacles such as these by being persistent and employing all the technical and artistic talents he or she possesses.  During the course of the past few days, I have been working on a self-assignment to photograph nature subjects in in the back parking lot of Unique Photo. Behind our building, is a small woodlot with a canal running through it. My assignment was to look past the litter and other signs of human activity and concentrate on finding a couple of publishable images.

I believe I have succeeded in meeting my objective. I hope you think so as well. Please keep in mind these photographs were made within 2oo yards of a corporate office complex in New Jersey.

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Fall Color and Sky