Points in Focus Photography

I just got back from a brief overnight sojourn to the west coast of Florida, specifically Sanibel Island. I had gone over mostly to stop at and check out the Audubon Society’s Corkscrew Swam Sanctuary, but it’s hard to pass up a sunset over there.

Sunset Stroll

This one shot (above) poses a bit of a dilemma for me, as I can’t deciede which variation I like better. The image shown above, is processed to recover and accentuate the blues of the ocean water. This was done by using a slightly tweaked florescent color balance and a selective color shift to return the sky back to a nicer shade of orange. An alternate less shifted version can be seen here.


The final, well next to final shot of the day. The final moments of the sun, shot at the equivalent of 896mm.

As I mentioned on twitter I was out scouting Shark Valley on the north edge of Everglades National Park and the Loop Road in Big Cypress National Preserve. Neither of which turned out to be all that stellar but the day was redeemed by a single Red-Shoulder Hawk that was nice enough to pose for us. I also spotted a Swallow-tailed Kite, though there was no possibility of photographing it.


Big Cypress is very much a challenge for me, I find it very difficult to find and visualize an image when the majority of the soundings are green and leafy. Doubly so when I’m merely passing though on one of the scenic drives in the middle of the day and not actually able to really get out and explore. Of course exploring almost anywhere in Florida almost invariably requires getting wet or having an air boat. Which makes being creative a lot more challenging.


What I did enjoy about Big Cypress, even after blowing an awesome shot of a Great Egret perched on a cypress knee, was the change in backgrounds. While the birds were nowhere near as approachable as they are at places like Wakodahatchee, the change in background more than makes up for that in my opinion. This though, it s one of those places where you really want a beanbag, and some mosquito/fly netting and to shoot from your car window.

Red-shoulder Hawk

Or the problem with umbrellas, shiny objects and reflections. Either way I was fooling around with decorations and lights on my desk and cooked up this in the spirit of Easter.

Fooling Around with Easter Decorations

Black cloth forms the background, the light is provided by a single Canon 580Ex II to high and to camera right tripped by Pocket Wizards, shooting into a Westcott 43″ Double Fold Umbrella, there are white reflectors to camera left, camera center, and camera right to provide fill.

Racooin in ReedsIt’s the wrong time of day, the lighting is all wrong, and I wasn’t even there to shoot but just incase I had my camera and apparently just incase isn’t a bad thing. The short of it, I was at Green Cay this afternoon, showing my grandmother around before she goes back home. 1100 to 1300 (that’s 11 AM to 1 PM) is really not the time to be out trying to make good pictures, the light is too harsh, it’s usually hot and often much of the wildlife is back under trees and in the shade. But that’s when most people are willing to go out in the big scary world, not 2 in the morning when I want to be heading out to be in position for the sunrise light.

20090303-60015I brought my camera, because hey I feel wierd with out it, and who knows, the one day I don’t bring my camera there’s going to be a tap-dancing eagle on the side of the boardwalk or something equally incredible. Oddly I always seem to like the images that come from these little excursions more than the ones where I’m trying to find something to shoot. In my non-shooting today, shot 65 frames, of roughly 4 subjects. The first was garbage, a couple of quick snaps of Pruple Martains, just so I could toss them in the ever growing Lightroom keyword library. From then on things picked up.

Along the eastern boardwalk the raccoon (at the top of the post) showed up. Further along, there was a pair of mottled ducks standing on a log. I don’t usually care for head on shots, I find birds heads look very odd from that angle, but every now and then they work out fairly well.

The real catch was the 3rd worked bird of the day, a Palm Warbler (show below). Much like my arch-nemebird the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, they are small, fast, tend not to stay around long, and are often back far enough away from the boardwalks to make shooting them next to impossible. Only once have I had one bold enough to come pose for me on the edge of the boardwalk. The final bird I worked was a Great Egret, but it yielded nothing quite as interesting as I would have liked.

Palm Warbler

Otherwise, Green Cay was pretty quiet today, I heard two Red-shouldered hawks off in the distance, but they never showed up.

I’m not <insert big name photographer here>, I don’t have the luxury of investing massive amounts of cash into protecting my digital photography. For the last 4 years or so I’ve relied on a 3-disk RAID 5 array to safeguard my data. Yes, I know RAID isn’t a backup nor will it protect me against accidentally deleting something. Unfortunately I didn’t have the money (or data important enough really) to worry about it, I was protected in the even a hard drive failed, and would just have to live with it  if anything went further south.

The Nomming Jaws of InevitabilityThat was until I started feeling the pinch of my array’s pathetic 500GB capacity and punctuated by the nomming jaws of inevitability, that I started rather hurriedly trying to do something about my lack of backups and my ever shrinking amount of available space. This was about the time I posted Just a Friendly Reminder, Backup Your Data.

Since then the nomming jaws of inevitability haven’t been far behind. Trying to do things on a budget I elected to go with a pair of new 750GB drives. I of course wanted to source them locally as I didn’t want to keep my now degraded RAID 5 array running that way for any length of time. Besides terrible performance, if anything else happened I was pretty much screwed. Of course, all I could get locally was a  pair of Seagate 7200.11 SATA drives, ones that happen to have a firmware issue that under certain conditions can cause the drive to fail when the system boots. Fortunately, Seagate had a firmware fix for that issue so that sorted out the first bump in the road.

You’ll notice that I’m using consumer level disks, this of course was mistake two. Oddly enough I never had a problem with running consumer level disks in my raid array prior, the 3 Western Digital drives in my old array were just run of the mill consumer grade drives. Oh how things have changed. Not long after I had the new array was online, I had my first consumer disk in RAID hick-up. One of the drives was slow in responding to a disk operation and the Intel RAID driver failed it. Lovely, the drive was fine, but the array now needed to be rebuilt. Two or three days later the other drive did the same thing, and back to rebuilding the array again. At this point I was concerned that if this continued I’d be in serious trouble, especially if the active disk was failed during the rebuild.

At this point I broke down and ordered a enterprise grade WD RE3 drive. Which sat on my desk while I was in Sanibel shooting shorebirds, only to be quickly swapped on my return as one of the disks timed out for a second time and I was forced into another time consuming array rebuild.

On the up side, of all of this, I’ve been left with a perfectly good 750GB drive that just can’t coexist in a RAID array–as an aside, you’d think that the Intel StorageMatrix controllers that are integrated into their desktop motherboards would be designed to be more forgiving of these types of problems as most people wouldn’t be running RAID ready SATA drives in their desktop computers. Slapping that extra drive in a USB2 external enclosure and I’ve got the start of a backup strategy.

Now the only question left is how long is this going to last before I have to figure out how to replace it. If I shoot 16GB a week–that’s about 1200 frames on a 40D or 600 frames on a 5D-II or 1Ds-III, I will run out of storage space in 46 weeks with out aggressively deleting bad frames. That puts my need to address this again point at sometime in the fall or early next year. So until then we’ll just have to see what happens.

Back from Sanibel

I just got back from an interesting trip to Sanibel and Ding Darling NWR. I had been hoping to get a couple of decent sunsets, I even borrowed some grand ND filters to have better control over the lighting as the sun was setting. Anyway, if you don’t follow my twitter feed, the entire time I was there the island was socked in with sea fog, except for a couple of brief clear times. The total lack of a decent sunset was definitely disappointing.

Anyway, Ding was pretty quiet, though crowded compared to the last time I was there in December. The highlight of that excursion was when a Bald Eagle showed up, though it was to far away to really warrant shooting. I’m not convinced that Ding is really practical for shooting, there haven’t been great numbers of birds when I’ve been there, nor are they close enough to be practical to shoot without some seriously long glass. All in all I find shooting shorebirds on the beach to be much more productive and enjoyable.

Taking a Break
Taking a Break

All in all I didn’t shoot a whole lot, but I’m still slowly working though the images, and mostly trying to ID shorebirds as that is still a big weakness for me. Anyway more to come.


A recent thread over on birdphotographers.net on diffraction prompted me to do this quick test.

The images were taken with a Canon EOS 40D, with an EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM @ 100mm, locked off on a tripod. Exposure was ISO 100, 1/250th @ f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22 and f/32. The target was lit with a Canon 580Ex II flash on camera. All frames were shot using one shot AF, with a 2 second timer and mirror lock up. No exposure or flash exposure compensation was used. The images were processed in Adobe Lightroom 2.3 RC, with the following settings:

  • Basic
    • Exposure: 0.00
    • Recovery: 0
    • Fill Light: 0
    • Blacks: 5
    • Brightness: +50
    • Contrast +25
    • Clarity: 0
    • Vibrance: 0
    • Saturation: 0
  • Tone Curve
    • All settings: 0
    • Point Curve: medium contrst
  • HSL
    • Hue, Saturaton and Luminance: 0
  • Sharpening
    • Amount: 71
    • Radius: 1.0
    • Detail: 25
    • Masking: 0
  • Nose Reduction
    • Luminance: 10
    • Color: 4
  • Vignettes: Off
  • Camera Calibration
    • Profile: Adobe Standard
    • All other settings: 0

The left column are 100% crops of bar code on the receipt in the center of the frame. The column on the left is the image the crop was made from, re-sized to fit in a 1000px by 800px box. Both series were exported with standard output sharpening targeted for the screen. Both columns are ordered by increasing whole f-stops from f/5.6 to f/32.

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I was at the southern end of the Everglades (Flamingo, FL) yesterday, so here’s the wildlife update from the trip. There were Roseate Spoonbills in Eco Pond, a handful at least. As well as White Ibis, and a couple of Great Blue Herons.

The Osprey population at Flamingo seems pretty healthy, there are several nests that can be easily photographed from along the side of the road with a sufficiently long lens (600mm + 1.4 TC at least). The light was not that great all day and nothing seemed to want to fly near me. The one flyby I got was late in great light quality wise, just not enough of it to get the shutter speeds necessary to make it anything more than a blur.

I ran into what I think was a female Northern Harrier (no picture) and what I know was a female American Kestrel (my first, but alas no picture worth sharing). There also seems to be some Eastern Phoebes around Flamingo, you can get quite close so long as you can shoot from your car. They weren’t approachable at all on foot, at least not for me.

I just got back from both the Northeast corner of the everglades (via airboat launched from Everglades Holiday Park in Broward county) and Green Cay, and there’s not a whole lot going on out there. Water levels in the ‘glades are still pretty high, though I forgot to look at the reading on one of the water quality stations we ran by. As for birds, I saw a couple of Great Blues, a couple American Bitterns (at least I think they were, they were too big to be Leasts), some vultures, Anhinga Cormorants and a couple Osprey. On our way in, we ran into a couple of duck hunters, as I understand it this is the last weekend of the season, and they said they hadn’t had any luck either. So things are still very quite right now.

When I got out of there I headed back up to Green Cay again (I was there Friday as well) to shoot Blue-grey Gnatcatchers again. I had some success Friday and a little today, though not for lack of birds being out. The usual suspects appeared to be around, I was there to shoot Gnatcatchers not general birds, Blue-wing Teals, Mottled Ducks, a Hawk (I think it was a Red-shoulder), the usual assortment of Grebes, Loons, Coots, Moorhens, herons and egrets as also there. Not very busy again.

Friday I ran by Wakodahatchee while I was up that way. Pretty quite up there as well. The Herons are still incubating at their nests. Not a whole lot else.

All in all so far this is starting to look like a rather disappointing season, at least unless it doesn’t pick up. The water levels in the Everglades are still a bit higher than the normally would be this time of year.

Redirected to EF 1.4x II review, 2019-02-10.

At this point, I’ve taken the EF 1.4x II into the field twice now, so this is my thoughts regarding the converter after a having used it in the field with a EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS USM on a EOS 40D as well as some very brief testing on an EOS 50D at least using contrast detection AF in live view mode.

First off a comment about caps. The front cap is is different from a camera body cap, it’s deeper to allow for the converter’s protruding front element. The converter’s front cap fits on a body fine, but converse doesn’t work at all. I only mention this because if you drop all your caps in a pocket in your bag you’ll can’t readily tell them apart by feel.  Now this hasn’t been an issue for me, mostly because I make sure to drop my TC caps into a different pouch than the rest of my caps.

Focusing, more specifically manual focusing, or at least that’s what I’m limited to. Most of Canon’s EOS bodies disable the auto focus system when the lens or lens and converter combination has a maximum aperture slower f/5.6. EOS 1 series bodies get a little more leeway, with the center point being sensitive to  f/8. That means when paired with either the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM, EF 400mm f/5.6L USM or EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM, only EOS 1 series bodies will have autofocus.

There is a widely used “tape trick” out there, that prevents the teleconverter from reporting to the camera. This way the camera doesn’t know the aperture is f/8 and it doesn’t disable the AF system. While this sounds good in theory; in practice, at least with the 100-400 and a 40D, the results were far form usable for me. AF hunted for all but the most simplistic scenes, further even when it locked on it was frequently front or back focused by a good margin.

Given my testing, this isn’t a time where I think Canon was just being conservative, it really is slow enough and inaccurate enough that it’s best to not even try and use it. Actually I think it speaks volumes for how poor the performance is was when you consider that I’d rather focus manually.

Surprisingly, the contrast detection used by the 50D in Live View mode (and I suspect the Rebel XSi, but I haven’t tested that so I can’t be sure) does function with the lens and TC combination. This gives the 50D an edge if you’re looking for an inexpensive body to pair with a slower than f/4 lens and still use the EF 1.4x II with it. This configuration isn’t fast by any means, however. It took 2 to 3 seconds to lock focus on a brightly lit subject, so you won’t be tracking moving subjects, let alone quickly moving ones.

Also there are performance differences between the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L and the EF 400mm f/5.6L. The 400mm f/5.6 prime focuses faster and is reported to work better with the “tape trick” across the board. Unfortunately I don’t have one, so I can’t test the validity of this.

In the mean time, with the tape trick being less than stellar, and the lack of auto focus I’ve been working on learning how to judge focus manually though the viewfinder. My technique right now is to use the viewfinder to get initial focus, then flipping on live view and checking that I’m focused where I want to be. Then with live view off, I take the picture. I don’t use live view for shooting as I’ve found that with live view enabled the metering can be off, sometimes close to a stop over exposed.

The more I use the TC the more comfortable I’m getting with doing everything through the viewfinder. But the risk of loosing the shot with out checking focus in live view is still there. I found that out the hard way last Sunday when I was shooting a Red-Shouldered hawk on a perch close to the boardwalk at Green Cay, only to find I focused just behind the bird for everything I shot.

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