Monday, January 31, 2011


After hiking several miles through the snow, I finally spotted a bald eagle within a reasonable distance today at the Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Tinicum.  I still did not get the elusive bald eagle keeper shot.  I captured the bird flying away from me:

[JPG] IMG_0358

Most disappointing was that my 400mm did not provide enough reach to capture this shot of an eagle flying with the Philadelphia skyline in the distance as a backdrop.  A 700mm lens would have allowed me to get much closer to the eagle while still framing it between two skyscrapers. This is a million dollar shot that simply didn't happen solely because of equipment limitations.  I will likely make it available as a small print:

[JPG] IMG_0342

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Another Day at Dix Fish & Wildlife Management Area

Despite the bitter cold, I layered-up and drove to Dix today as my schedule and the weather won't allow for any further bird photography this week.  I saw a number of birds, but there were no bald eagles at Dix or the nearby PSE&G property.  I traversed the dike and set up my blind on the banks of the mostly-frozen Cohansey River.  A flock of Bufflehead swam down the river as the sun got closer to the horizon, but decided to turn away rather than follow their path directly toward me:

[JPG] IMG_9452

The best shots of the day wound up being of a grove of leafless trees as the sun set behind them.  It was a good hike, but not much else.

[JPG] IMG_9520


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sunrises & Sunsets

Everyone loves a good sunrise or sunset shot.  The beauty of the sky and the soft light combine to offer anyone with a soul a very introspective, sublime feeling when viewed live.  Evoking this feeling in a photograph is the difference between a successful shot and one that is merely pedestrian.

I learned quickly that spectacular sunsets are not a given.  Even while living on the water at a resort town in Southern New Jersey for two-and-a-half summers, it would sometimes be weeks between serious photographic opportunities.  Haze was sometimes a problem.  During June 2009, there were about a dozen days in which it did not rain.  Overcast conditions predominated almost the entire month, completely obscuring the sun during its rise or descent toward the horizon.  It was doubly frustrating because it also hampered my ability to get good light for birding shots during daily runs on a kayak.  (It doesn't matter as much for birds with white plumage, but there were plenty of Great Blue Herons, Osprey, Oystercatchers and Black Skimmers to shoot, along with the occasional Green Heron or Tricolored Heron.) 

Ironically, my best sunrise and sunset shots were captured during Summer 2008.  I had only been shooting since January and had upgraded from a Canon PowerShot S5 IS to a Digital Rebel XTi in March.  I was only one step above 'clueless' at the time.  (Now, I'm two steps above.)  I quickly developed an eye for reading the sky, though, and identified the most important element to a compelling sunrise or sunset photo: clouds.  Clouds are what makes for a dramatic photos.  The key is having just enough present, but not so much that the sunset is obscured at the horizon and the brilliant colors fail to reflect back upon them.  If you're extremely lucky- and this does tend to happen near bodies of water- a storm will roll through and begin to break-up just around sunset.  Here's some of my favorite examples, the original files of which have largely been lost:

Avalon Sunset 2008.05.24
Sunset, May 24, 2008, Princeton Harbor, 23rd Street, Avalon, NJ 

[JPG] 063
Sunset, July 9, 2008, Princeton Harbor, Avalon, NJ  

Sunrise A 2008.08.29
Sunrise, August 29, 2008, 8th Street Jetty, Avalon, NJ 

2009.06.22  Avalon Sunset, 34th Street
Sunset, June 22, 2009, 33rd Street, Avalon, NJ

2009.06.22  Flooded Pier, 53rd Street
Flooded Pier at Sunset, June 22, 2009, 53rd Street Marina, Avalon, NJ

2009.09.02  Avalon Sunrise III
Sunrise, September 2, 2009, 8th Street Jetty, Avalon, NJ

Even without the benefit of a storm, clouds can still provide the elements necessary for a good photo:

Sunset, 53th Street
Sunset, August 13, 2008, 53rd Street Marina, Avalon, NJ

Sunset & Dock 2008.07.14 E
Sunset, July 14, 2008, 28th Street, Avalon, NJ

2010.07.25  Sunset, Princeton Harbor
Sunset, July 25, 2010, Princeton Harbor, 23rd Street, Avalon, NJ

2009.08.31  53rd Street IV
Sunset, August 31, 2009, 53rd Street Marina, Avalon, NJ

Composition is just as important with sunrises and sunsets as in any other photograph.  A general rule is to never place the horizon in the middle of the photograph, but I'm not very concerned with this.  More importantly, your photograph should give the viewer a sense of place.  That's why I always include a man-made or other natural elements in the photograph with the sun and sky.  In the above examples, I've used a jetty, houses lining a harbor, bulkhead pilings, and a marina as compositional devices. It makes a photo much more interesting to the viewer.  That's why in the first example in the section above that I chose to include part of the dock and the hose in the photo.  It gives the viewer the impression that they are standing at the marina looking out into the skyscape and provides a good contrast to the beauty of the sky.  Here's another example of including man-made elements in a shot:

Sunrise E 2008.08.22    
Sunrise, August 22, 2008, 8th Street Jetty, Avalon, NJ

Filters are very important in capturing a sunset scene.  A graduated density filter, which is shaded on the top and clear on the bottom, will allow for a proper exposure by bringing down the brightness of the sky compared with the often shadowed foreground.  I currently use inexpensive Tiffen filters and will until my photography budget gets a much-needed boost.  I'll likely go with Singh-Ray for my first 'professional' filters.  In addition to a host of graduated filters, they also manufacture reverse graduated filters that have a increasingly darkened strip at the horizon and lighter shading for the sky so that the last light of the sun is not washed-out in the middle of the frame.  They can be purchased here:

My final word on sunrise and sunset photos concerns aperture.  When the sun is at or near the horizon, it can be photographed without washing out the entire frame if shot at f/18 or f/22.  This will often give a pleasing 'starburst' effect to the light instead of the sun blowing-out the photo. (You can see this effect in the last jetty photo in the first section of photographs.)  If the sun is higher in the sky, even a shot at f/32 won't achieve this effect; the sun's rays are still far too powerful.  NOTE: Never look directly into the sun with a lens, especially a telephoto lens, unless it is on the horizon.  Serious injury to your eye could result, even at closed apertures.  I took this photo at f/32 and used some processing to keep the color in the sky:

2010.11.21 Sunset at Forsythe NWR
Sunset with Geese and Northern Harrier, Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, Oceanville, NJ

My goal was to get a flock of ducks or snow geese crossing in front of the sun.  The glare was so strong in my viewfinder- even at f/32- that I didn't even see the Northern Harrier in the frame until I downloaded the photos at home.  Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.  



Sunday, January 16, 2011

John Heinz NWR and Turkey Point

Today I visited both John Heinz NWR at Tinicum and Turkey Point near Millville, NJ in search of waterfowl to shoot.  There were few photographic opportunities at Heinz because virtually all of the water was frozen over.  I managed only a photo of a mallard hen admiring her reflection:

[JPG] IMG_9153
Canon 50D, 400 5.6L, f/7.1 @ 1/1000, ISO 250, EV -2/3.

I made my way to Turkey Point, where waterfowl are generally plentiful in winter.  With only 400mm at my disposal, I am unable to shoot them from a distance.  I'm forced to set up a blind at the water's edge, which immediately makes my subjects scatter.  Then I must wait for their return. Sometimes, they do not.  Often, they do.  I managed to get a shot of this lesser scaup drake between his dives for small crabs beneath the water:

[JPG] IMG_9376
Canon 50D, 400 5.6L, f/7.1 @ 1/1000, ISO 250, EV -2/3.

There were many mute swans present:

[JPG] IMG_9188
Canon 50D, 400 5.6L, f/7.1 @ 1/1600, ISO 320, EV -2/3.

Finally, I took a picture of the moon before I left:

[JPG] IMG_9422

I observed a number of hooded mergansers but was unable to photograph them.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)

I visited Dix Fish and Wildlife Management Area again today.  It was a sunny day when I arrived; by the time I hiked to my shooting area and set up my blind the sun had been completely obscured by a layer of endless clouds.  I walked all the way out to the end of the muddy dike where there was a break in the ice covering the Cohansey River.  My best shot of the day was of this common merganser in flight.  It's a shame there was no sun to illuminate its red and black eyes.

2010.01.15  Common Merganser
Canon 50D, 400 5.6L, f/7.1 @1/1600, ISO 400, EV -1/3.  50% Crop.

I also saw the following other species today: northern harrier; hooded merganser (drake and hen); bufflehead (drake); dunlin; various gulls; Canada goose; snow goose; great blue heron; and dozens of robins, blue jays, cardinals, red-winged blackbirds and sparrows.  As dusk approached, I heard the unmistakable sound of who...who...who coming from the woods.  A large owl shot out from the trees less than a minute later.  It was the first time I had seen an owl in flight and it was very impressive.  It was too quick (and too dark) to photograph, though.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Sleeping Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)

I took this photo of a sleeping blue-winged teal at Merritt Island last March from an observation deck.  Obviously, the reflection of the foliage surrounding the pond is what makes the photo interesting.  The shame is that I didn't properly expose the duck itself. The iridescent plumage and reflective qualities of the underbelly can make this a challenge.  The first photo is the cropped version; the second is the photo's original frame.  The white reflections in the upper right corner are of a snowy egret foraging along the banks of the pond.  When viewed at its original size, you can see the erget's yellow lores in the reflection and some feather detail.

[JPG2] IMG_6207

[JPG3] IMG_6207

Canon 50D, 400 5.6L, f/8 @ 1/640, ISO 400.  March 15, 2010 at 11:34 a.m. Merritt Island NWR, Titusville, FL.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Winter Heron

I visited the Dix Fish and Wildlife Management Area near Bridgeton, NJ today.  It is the one place in NJ where you are virtually guaranteed to see bald eagles during the winter.  I saw two (one mature, one juvenile) and at least a half-dozen other raptors, most of which were northern harriers.  I also saw flocks of Canada and snow geese by the hundreds, robins, cardinals, and two great blue herons, one of which is pictured below.

The place is not very easy to find.  As an added bonus, my car got stuck in a pothole that was obscured by a light snow.  I did manage to get a tow truck onto the scene.  I will definitely return when the snow thaws and the roads are less muddy.

2011.01.12 Winter Heron

Saturday, January 8, 2011

My Ten Favorite Photos of 2010

All photographers are being encouraged to share their Top Ten photos of 2010, so I figure I'll add mine in chronological order:

The Cat
Smoke Study: The Cat 2010.01.06

The Crucifixion (1300-1350)
The Crucifixion (1300-1350), Philadelphia Museum of Art 

2009.01.25  Ben Franklin Bridge after Storm
Ben Franklin Bridge after Storm 2010.01.25
Sold to Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Philadelphia, PA

2008.03.15  Green Heron Hunting Stealth
Green Heron Hunting Stealth 2010.03.15, Merritt Island NWR, Titusville, FL

2010.03.16 Great Egret Pair Building Nest
Great Egret Pair Building Nest 2010.03.16, Gatorland Rookery, Orlando, FL 

2010.03.16  Great Egret Chick
Great Egret Chick 2010.03.16, Gatorland Rookery, Orlando, FL 

2010.05.29  Snowy Egret Fishing
Snowy Egret Flipping Fish 2010.05.29, Avalon, NJ

2010.07.25  Sunset, Princeton Harbor
Sunset, Princeton Harbor 2010.07.25, Avalon, NJ

2010.08.20 Eric Heywood - Ray LaMontagne & The Pariah Dogs
Eric Heywood, Ray LaMontagne and The Pariah Dogs, Susquehanna Bank Center, Camden, NJ

2010.10.23 QB 19 Chas Dodd

Rutgers QB Chas Dodd (Lyman, SC) is set to pass during the third quarter of the Scarlet Knights' 41-21 loss to Pittsburgh at Heinz Field on October 23, 2010.  Dodd was sacked 6 times and finished the day with 62 yards on 19 attempts.  

A: 50,425