When shooting birds it is better to shoot with the mouth open or something in the mouth

A bird with something in it’s mouth, or singing the blues is more interesting than a tight billed bird.  I understand that sometimes there is an outstanding shot of a bird with nothing in its mouth and it is not singing. But, in general try to get that type of action.  Fighting or using its  claws is fair game too. Note too that all four photos tell a story. The Belted Kingfisher with the minnow in its mouth was a lucky high percentage shot. Kingfishers are one of the toughest birds to photograph. They are fast, elusive and don’t like a lot of people around. The settings using a 5oomm canon lens with a 1.4x extender was: f/9.5, iso 800, 1/2000.

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Blog_Belted Kingfisher better with mouth openBlog_spotted tohee_jim akers Nice shot of the Spotted Towhee but compared to the other “action” shots it is out of the competition.

Nik software is now free

This is a short and simple blog today. One of the premier software programs that millions of photographers throughout the world have used. The company use to be called Nik software and was then bought by Google.  Some think that Google bought Nik for the Snapseed technology. I was a big user of Nik at one time. It made my life a lot easier. As soon as they got purchased by Google, I heard less and less from them as far as specials , upgrades and news.  I think this may be the end of Nik now that it is free.

Click Here for the news from Google/Nik.

When good shots get lost in the clutter

There are times when a really good shot is just lost in the clutter of what is around the focus of the photo.  I remember seeing a flower that was in competition and it was a great shot, but I had a problem seeing what was the subject due to the clutter around the flower.  Sometimes, it is better to move on and wait for another opportunity.

Belted Kingfisher on the left and far right and a Green Heron in the center.  Take my word the shots are in focus, especially the heron and the Kingfisher in flight give me a break. The problem is the clutter around them.  Sometimes it takes more effort to creatively get rid of the clutter. It can be done but then it really does not look natural.  Time to move on and wait for another day.  Also, take it from me- Don’t fall in love with your photo. Get over it and move on. The trick is to… you’ll just have to wait to find out how to solve the problem in another blog. Keep shooting for quality.

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Opportunities are all around

One never knows what lurks around the corner when one has a camera.  I have a saying to look behind you because the better shot maybe in the opposite direction.

Balance and Strength

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I was shooting waves, birds, rocks and this is what was facing my back.

We are Champions

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Once again, this was to my back

An intense day at the bar

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this was a luck shot.  Never noticed the mirror in the ceiling of the bar.

Street Art

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Going for a walk with your camera is a great way to see opportunities that you may not have seen without the camera. Sometimes the camera makes your mind and eyes more attentive.

All the above shots were taken just by walking around.  I did not go out to shoot these photos, they just presented the opportunity and I took it.  The big question is how do you make a picture into a photograph of art. To be continued. Happy Shooting!

Photographer Block like Writers Block

There are times when you just don’t know what to shoot.  Your mind is a blank as they say.  It happens to writers too.  They just can’t seem to get their thoughts and ideas together.  Here is one thing you can photograph everyday.  All you need is imagination.  It’s called FOOD.  There all kinds of angles, distances, shapes, colors of food.  Food is also presented in many different ways. Plates, pots, pans, tables, no tables etc etc.  The possibilities are endless. Here are two photos I took a few years ago, just for fun, no pressure. Deserts are also fun to photograph too. Did you know that food photography is big. It is hard to not to find food photos in a magazine these days.  We think about it everyday, so why not photograph it while we think about it.

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Yummy food and presentation.

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Yummy veggies for St Patrick Day


Not too much and not too little, just a nice snack

Another way to get out and clear your mind is go to a Farmers Market.  They usually have colorful opportunities sitting right in front of you.

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Focus Stacking_Not that hard and a lot of fun

When I started my blog, I said that would keep it simple and use photos to show what I was talking.  I will leave it up to you to research the finer details, as in using the software.  My purpose is to show you that it can be done.  If I can do it, you can do it.

So here is the question?  How do you get two objects with different depth of fields.  Simple, using a tripod, take two shots of each object and then combine them in a “focus stacking” program such as Helicon Focus.  Here is an example.  I use Lightroom and Photoshop to do my focus stacking. There are other programs that do the same thing. One that comes to mind is Helicon Focus. Click Here for a free trial. Do your research.


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To get this shot really good, you need to take more than two shots. You need to take a shot of the space between both bolts and the closest bolt is a little soft on the lower left side.  But you get the idea.

Focus Stacking comes in real handy when photographing insects and flowers on a macro level.  When your really up close, it is almost impossible to get a well focused dragonfly front to back. Sideways yes but front to back very hard.  Ditto for a flower.  One part is in focus the other is out. Very frustrating.  The best way is multiple shots of the flower front to back, left to right.  I usually shoot in quadrants, starting from the rear and work forward or starting in the foreground and work my way to the back. Lastly, you need a tripod period to do a good focus stacking shot.  Click Here for a more detailed explanation of focus stacking.

The Rule of Odds and Using a Border

I wrote about the rule of odds. Which is to use odd number of things such as 3 rocks rather than two, or 5 puppies rather than 4 if possible.

Here is a very nice example of three mushrooms that seem to work.  What do you think?

We Love You Little One

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If I kept the two large mushrooms, it would work but would not be as effective.

It maybe a little hard to see, here is the same shot only with a simple black border and key line to help keep the eye focused on the mushrooms.  A simple matte can sometimes be the difference between an average photo and a winning photo.  I usually try both ways and then make a decision. It also depends on who is going to judge the photo.  If it is a bird shot and i submit it to a bird association, I most likely will not use a border. They want it natural.  If I am submitting to a fine art competition, I may consider a border.

We Love You Little One- with border and key line

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I submitted this photo as a macro shot with the border and key line.  I should know how it did after February 10th.

Adding a Good Foreground to Landscape Photos

Landscapes are the toughest photos for me to get right.  Recently, I decided I would pay more attention to my landscape shots. One of the first things I do now is to find a good foreground.  I run around looking for something that will lead my eye to the background like a mountain, rock formation,giant tree or great sky/clouds. The foreground does not have to be exceptional but make sure that there is some contrast with the background.  If there are leading lines, as in a string of rocks, flowers or bushes that sort of take your eye along the way to the mountains that is helpful.  Also, you don’t want to stick the items in the very certain.  Don’t forget the rule of thirds.  Easier said than done right, yea right.  Hat tip to all you landscape masters.

Here is a simple example:

Tip of the Shaft

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Note the plant adds a little more oomph to the photo. Your eye looks at the plant and then moves forward to the rock.  It was not easy to find a plant that worked this way with the rock.  That’s nature for you.  This stool has three legs: Foreground, Background and Strong Light. I will touch on Background in another blog.

What Camera Settings Should I Use?

I get asked that question a lot. In fact, I was speaking to a Canon employee at their Learning Center in Costa Mesa, CA last week and he asked me the same question. I think it is just like what cloths should I wear on a particular day.  I change my camera settings to fit the situation.  Since I am an outdoor natural light shooter here are my initial settings when I go out and photograph nature.

f/8, 1/1500, ISO 400- I put my lens on auto focus and go to manual if the subject matter remains still. I shoot primarily in Manual or Aperture Priority. I adjust my settings as the circumstances dictate.  I also use “live view” to determine my settings too.  Click here for a description of live view. If I am following a fast-moving animal, I am usually on Auto Focus with a low or high burst rate, meaning how many frames I can click off at a time.

Here are three different photos all using my initial walk around ready to go settings. I used a Canon 70×200 2.8L  lens for all three photos. Note that having a glint in the eye of a bird helps make a bird photo better.

Resting Pelican- Marina del Rey, CA

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Pelican- Marina del Rey

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Seagull- Marina del Rey

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One setting change on this seagull. The ISO was 200 not 400. That is why the photo is a little darker.

The Foot Drag Shot- Uncommonly High Percentage Shot

As I said in the previous blog, the foot drag is harder to get than the wing drag for me.  It is really a timing and anticipation shot. Also, it happens so fast that in most cases the human reflex is not quick enough. If and it is a BIG if you could get just a toenail skimming calm water it could be a spectacular shot.     I would not spend my day trying to get this shot unless you want to work on your tan or have nothing better to do. With that said, if you get a bird with something in its talons like a fish by all means go for the shot. That is the story!   These photo are not competition photos but you get the idea of the foot drag shot and something in the talons of a bird like a fish.

Water Walker– High Percentage Shot

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On the Attack– Again a high percentage shot

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Early Morning Catch– This is the cousin of the toe dragger and is worth going for as explained above. I saw this Osprey in a tree and walked to my car to get my long lens (I came to get landscape fog shots at the lake and was not prepared for distant bird shots). It took me 15 minutes back and forth.  The Osprey was still there and I just waited. Patience paid off. I also got some good shots of the breakfast meal being eaten in a nearby tree.

Early Morning Catch

Based on our discussion in previous blogs this photo pretty much has it all. Tells a story, has impact and is pretty much in focus and the rule of thirds is in play. Note the reflection in the water leads the eye to the bird. Also, the bird has room to move to the right. It has someplace to go, as they say.