Windows For the Soul - Photography

Waiting for that light

A few weeks ago, I took a few hours late in the afternoon to go for a walk on the countryside. I took my teenage daughter along, with her own camera. Yes, spreading the gospel, so to speak. There were no interesting sightings worthy of a photograph, apart from this fellow with its extremely discreet camo (Euplectes afer, Yellow-crowned bishop), toing and froing above a stretch of reed. Clearly, there was a nest nearby. We managed to take a few shots of the busy creature but as I was testing a TC-200 on my 80-200mm f/2.8 in rather dim light, on a windy day and with no tripod, the outcome was far from acceptable. I decided that I would be back as soon as I had a chance.
A couple of weeks later, I returned alone. I had my tripod with me, there was a bit of wind but it was no gale. I had plenty of time because the girl that is a treat for mosquitoes at that time of the day stayed home.

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Nikon D7100, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @200 mm, Nikon TC-200, ISO 400, 1/1250, f/God-Only-Knows, Tripod.

On a first sighting, I managed to take a few photos, but the wind was still a bit too strong. I noticed that I would have the sun behind my back at sunset, so I decided to return a couple of hours later, and so I did. However, when I returned, the busy bird seemed to have vanished and I had to wait over an hour for him to show up again. Apart from the fact that I was standing, I did not mind an extra hour of peacefulness on the countryside. I am just a bloke with a camera taking a few photos on my scarce spare time but for me waiting a couple of hours for a bird is by no means boring because there is always something else to photograph as I wait. However, even though I know that those who do this professionally frequently have to wait much longer than that, I could see myself doing this for a living. Moving on... lest I should need to get therapy... Considering that I was using a Nikon TC-200 on my 80-200 f/2.8 and, consequently, using manual focus, with doubtful exposure readings on the D600, considering that it was on a windy day, that I had no VR and was using a shaky tripod head, it could be worse...I hope. Well, who cares, at least I could finally enjoy a quiet afternoon away from my desktop.
The second photo and the third one were taken almost 3 hours after the first shot. On the first one, I used the DX camera for the extra reach, on the other two I used the FX so that I could crank up the ISO to cope with the fading light. I know which photo(s) I prefer...

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Nikon D600, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @200 mm, Nikon TC-200, ISO 1600, 1/1000, f/God-Only-Knows, Tripod.

Butterfly season with different cameras

I know that we all see the photos first and only then, if ever, go on to reading the post. However, just this once, try to read first and check out the photos in the end because it’s quiz time.

Another year has passed, speeding into oblivion, and here comes butterfly season. I like shooting butterflies, but I like it more for the effort that I have to put into it than for the results. One could be led to believe that photographing butterflies is easy. I guess it probably is, but not around here. Even in the hottest summer days, mornings tend to be too cold until the sun is high in the sky, but as soon as the heat comes in so does the wind. For those who believe that shooting butterflies is easy, try doing it on a windy day. Yet, occasionally, I get lucky. I came across a seemingly uninteresting small meadow on a field, not too far from my house, that was populated with small butterflies of different species. On my way back home, I took 30 minutes off on a few different days. On two of those days, the wind called for increased shutter speed, but when the breeze was gentle the butterflies were not too active. This was also due, I imagine, to the fact that it was quite early in the morning and it was probably too cold for them. I had a chance to try different compositions and different settings; to work the DOF that can be a bit tricky with small creatures with such a peculiar shape; or to avoid the nasty backgrounds on a natural environment. As I said, it is more about the effort than about the result because, in the end, photos of butterflies seldom have anything interesting about them other than the creature itself. And when they do, more often than not I am left with the sensation that they have been “engineered” to obtain a perfect scenario, with ideal conditions.

Three different days, at roughly the same time of the day, with three different cameras (D600, D7100 and D700) and the same lens (Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G). When I am out looking for small creatures there are occasions when the crop factor of the DX camera is welcome. However, I do not fancy extreme macro shots, particularly when it comes to butterflies, as I rather prefer to include a glimpse of their environment. So, I tend to use the FX cameras for this sort of shot, unless the butterflies avoid my presence and I need increased reach. I have added the D700 to my kit bag only recently. I had been curious to give it a try for quite some time and finally I came across the opportunity to grab one. I am not disappointed. In fact, after only a couple of weeks using it, I end up picking it up most of the time. I just love its handling and I really like its results. For some reason, I can see myself using it more than the D600 (or the D7100, a great camera that, in the meantime, I have sold ) for portraits, landscape and whenever I want to capture a certain light or ambient. There is just something about it that I guess it has earned it its iconic status. To be honest, right now I can hardly keep my hands off the D700.

Ok, it’s quiz time: I know it is not easy, or it does not make much sense trying to compare them, because the subjects, the settings and the conditions are different but try to look at the three photos below without reading the settings caption and guess which photo was taken with the D700.

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Nikon D600, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 220, 1/2500, f/4.0, SB-28.

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Nikon D700, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 200, 1/250, f/10, SB-28.

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Nikon D7100, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 200, 1/200, f/11, SB-28.

What can I photograph when the lions don't show up?

As much as I would love that, there are no lions, zebras, leopards, wildebeests, etc., around here. Although there is, I imagine, a good number of different species that could surely be worthy of a photo, they just don’t cross my way when I am running all my daily errands, which is pretty much all I do most of my day. Either that or seat at my desk, stuck on my desktop, trying to do what pays the bills. They call it working. Anyway, as I was saying, I lack the usual interesting subjects for a shot that is worthy of more than 2 seconds of attention. Of course, I lack much more than just that, but I’d rather not go into that because it’s easier to complain about what is beyond my power to change. So (I keep digressing, I know), what could possibly make the difference between a photo of a simple horse on a field, or what a friend of mine would call a “Frére Jacques” (sorry for the private joke) kind of photo, and a decent shot? On my way to the car wash, late in the afternoon on a sunny day about to turn into a stormy one, I was keeping an eye on the sunset when I looked inland and saw the sky with these strong colours, threatening to drop a shower on my head pretty soon. And yet, in front of me all I had was a busy rush hour avenue packed with cars entering a roundabout. Not the prettiest sight. To the left, I spotted this horse in the middle of a field, about fifty meters from the road and I found my subject. I wasn’t wearing the best shoes to walk into the knee-high grass but... who cares? The horse was facing westward, barely lit by what was left of the sunset light. I dialled the compensation down a bit and managed to take a couple of shots just before the horse’s ears showed that my presence wasn’t welcome and my model turned away to as far as the rope allowed. I had to leave, because my car was supposed to be ready and I had just 5 minutes to pick it up. Or so I thought, because I had to wait almost an hour more, instead of taking some more photos elsewhere. Typical...
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Nikon D7100, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @80 mm, ISO 640, 1/320, f/6.3, -2/3EV.

In need of a telephoto lens... or not.

I hesitated considerably before posting these photos. I mean, I always do, maybe too much... or maybe not enough. This time, though, I had a further reason to question whether I should do it or not. However, this set of photos is a good illustration of a couple of things I feel that are worthy of a few lines. I hope I am not too wrong. The past few weeks, everyday, with an amazing punctuality just before sunset, flocks of cormorants fly over my house, coming from the seaside, flying inland for the night. I had this photo in my mind of one of those flocks (ranging from only two birds to well over twenty) flying in from the sunset from an almost horizontal perspective. How could I do that if they were flying rather high above my head? Well, by climbing onto the roof of my house, of course. With that in mind, I waited for a day with some rain-threatening clouds, but sunny enough to ensure a colourful late afternoon sky. I got lucky with the weather and I was not disappointed with the light conditions. However, when I showed these photos to two very different people, they had quite distinct reactions. The first one, who I usually consider, more or less as a joke, the acid test for my photography, seemed to be quite pleased with the result. I guess it was the colourful sky that got her sympathy. The second one, a friend who, in my opinion (for what it is worth), is a great nature photographer, was kind enough not to trash them bluntly. Kindly, he just said: ”your 80-200 mm lens is short, isn´t it?” I guess he is right, the lens is short because I had to crop some of the photos a bit and still the birds are little more than tiny spots in the sky. I suppose his precious feedback alone should be enough to keep me from posting them and to understand that the photos are, to put it mildly, plain boring. Yet, every single one of these shots is much closer to what I wanted to do than they would be if I had used a longer lens. True, I would have been able to get closer to the cormorants, but I would have lost too much diversity in the sky and it was the sky with the birds that I wanted to capture rather than the other way around. So, this just goes to show a couple of things: first, you should not trust the approval of your most ferocious critic; secondly, if you really want to find opportunities to use your gear, all you have to do is to open your eyes and.... climb to the roof top of your house; finally, sometimes having the gear that one could think that it would be the most suitable for the situation may keep you from taking the photo that you have imagined. The problem is when the photo that you have imagine is a cr*ppy one, as it seems to be the case. Be that as it may, I am still mad at Santa for forgetting that 500 mm that was on my Christmas wish list.

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Nikon D7100, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @200 mm, ISO 900, 1/200, f/7.1.

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Nikon D7100, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @200 mm, ISO 640, 1/250, f/7.1.

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Nikon D7100, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @200 mm, ISO 280, 1/320, f/10.