Welcome Spring

I can't believe we're a week away from flipping the calendar to May, and here I am finally posting about spring. The fickle weather in Washington, DC has limited my photographic opportunities, but with two nice days in a row, I grabbed the camera and headed out to see the first signs of spring.

My destination this week was an old favorite - a site I haven't visited in years - Huntley Meadows. Located in the middle of the bustling suburbs outside Washington, DC, this is an unlikely location to find some of the best wetlands.... but unlikely can be good!

I started my day shooting 4x5 large format film (more to come on that in a future post). In other words, I was carrying the one camera that is basically useless for all types of wildlife photography! My goal was to focus on black and white abstracts, and every bird and mammal in the sanctuary must have gotten the memo. Never have there been so many wonderful photographic opportunities... clearly the wildlife knew I was without the right camera for the job. 

Frustrated that the wildlife was practically posing in mockery of my camera predicament, I went back and got my Nikon D850 and Canon 400mm f/2.8 lens (modified to Nikon mount) and returned to see if I could get the last laugh. Indeed, I found many of the same subjects remained very cooperative. 

I may have taken 200 photographs of this blue heron through the course of the morning. He was incredibly friendly and got close enough that I had to start backing up!

I may have taken 200 photographs of this blue heron through the course of the morning. He was incredibly friendly and got close enough that I had to start backing up!

The natural camouflage is very well done; a number of folks walked past and never noticed the bird hiding in the bushes. Of course it helps to spot these guys when you have a 400mm lens....

The natural camouflage is very well done; a number of folks walked past and never noticed the bird hiding in the bushes. Of course it helps to spot these guys when you have a 400mm lens....

These guys have this funny jerky movement, so I had to shoot fast to get lucky and catch them mid-movement.

These guys have this funny jerky movement, so I had to shoot fast to get lucky and catch them mid-movement.

So focused. So attentive.

So focused. So attentive.

One of these sticks is not a stick.

One of these sticks is not a stick.

I wasn't the only one who looked outside and noticed spring had finally arrived.

I wasn't the only one who looked outside and noticed spring had finally arrived.

Quick Shot: One for the Birds

Pigeons: "Flying rats".

These poor birds have the unfortunate reputation of being a pest. They are pre-disposed to a life of shooing and picking at leftover crumbs. But as much as we overlook pigeons, they can actually be really pretty..... in the right context. 

During my travel through Austria, Hungary, and Germany, I established a micro-quest to create images with pigeons as a prominent theme. As I photographer I love to photograph the things we often overlook, and pigeons became a fun little photographic project for that journey. 

So today I present a series of images on pigeons -- it's one for the birds -- and maybe you'll see a little beauty in that bird. Or you'll shoo it off. Whatever.

Photographed with the Leica M Monochrom and Leica Noctilux f/0.95 lens. (PS- I might be the first person to use that lens to prominently feature birds. It's not exactly a 'birding' lens!)

Everyone else in the Hero's Square of Budapest was photographing the monuments. I was pre-focused and pre-composed waiting for the birds to take off. After a few long minutes of pigeon watching, they finally jumped into flight. Best yet - their flight path worked perfectly with the direction that dude in the statue was pointing. Winning!

Not all of my pigeon watching and timing was as successful as that first shot. In this case, these pigeons had their feet glued firmly to the rooftops in Bratislava. But the leaning and not level roof dotted with birds still makes for an interesting image.

I think this is one of the most ironic images I've ever made. This is some fountain in Austria, and this pigeon was just chilling at the feet of the eagle / hawk thing in the statue. The expressions are priceless.

No patience here - just luck. This is why I always carry my camera turned on - I turned around just to see these birds flying over the dome. Sadly some power lines were in the way, but it adds and interesting element to the image still.

Quick Shot: Great Egret

I decided to mix things up and it paid off! Normally I try to do bird photography in the late evening at Mason Neck State Park - the park doesn't open until 8am so I've never tried to shoot an early morning. This weekend, however, I decided to mix things up and try going when the park opened because the weather was expected to be 15 degrees cooler.  

Not only was the weather better in the morning, but so were the birds! I was the first person down the trail in the morning, which meant I had to deal with overnight spider webs that had been strung, but I also had the best views of the wildlife.  

Normally I'm happy to see one or two large birds (egrets or herons) but I must have seen 20 or more today.

Normally I'm happy to leave with one or two decent shots but today I got four or five. 

The winner, for me, was to see this Great Egret. I'd spent an hour photographing an Egret the week prior, but wasn't happy with how any of the shots came out. This Egret perked himself on a nice log for me, which helped to isolate him from the background. 

I shot at f/6.7 and 1,500th of a second with the SB-700 flash and Better Beamer Flash Extender attached to the flash. The lens was the Nikon 80-400mm lens at 400mm... look at the amazing detail it captures!  I did post production in Adobe Photoshop CS6.  

 

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Quick Shot: Blue Heron

This weekend I purchased the new Nikon 80-400mm lens (see my video unboxing) and I've been itching to take it for a spin. I headed out to one of my favorite local sites for bird photography, Mason Neck State Park. 

Mason Neck has so many birds, you're never sure what you'll actually see! This visit was dominated by a Blue Heron that I befriended and spent over an hour photographing. 

As soon as the heron landed in the area of the park where I was working, he was immediately attacked by a group of crows. The crows wanted to make it perfectly clear to this heron that he'd entered their territory! As they flew in to dive bomb the heron, he'd puff up his chest and push out his feathers to look bigger and hiss back at the birds. After a few minutes of asserting himself, the crows returned to their business and let him start searching the waters for fish.

I took a few shots of the Blue Heron as he was puffed up in defense against the crows but liked this one the best for his demeanor. You can look into his eyes and see a bird that is tired of being harassed! 

I shot this using the Nikon D800, Nikon 80-400mm (at 400mm), f/5.6 and 1/1000sec. As you can see, the 80-400mm is incredibly sharp and it had no trouble focusing and maintaining focus during all of the activity. I decided to convert it into black and white to highlight the contrast between his long feathers and the background. Edited with Photoshop CS6 and converted to black and white using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.  

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