Portland, Multnomah County, Oregon

Mar. 23, 2011 – Wed. – Ridgefield NWR

Photographers – This episode includes some thoughts on High-speed Sync flash and on Exposing to the Right!  Please see the end of today’s blog post.

21 Photos in this edition!

Pulling into the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge parking area, there is actually some blue sky and my hopes for some decent light for at least part of the day are pretty high. 

It’s about 7:15 a.m. and I get my gear set up and take off in my truck around the 4.2 mile auto tour.  Even before I get to post #2, I see a couple of Killdeer walking along the road and the grass at road edge, not the least bit concerned with me being there.  I’ve gotten a bunch of shots like this on previous because these birds seem to be in this location very often.  But I decide to take a few shots just to get “warmed up.” 

I pick up my camera and find that the power will not stay on–I can’t take any pictures.  The power comes on for just a few seconds at a time and then goes off.  After a little panicking, I realize that the battery grip had become loose and was not making proper contact with the camera body.  I tightened it up and everything was fine.  I’ve been doing bird photography going on 5 years now and that had never happened to me before.  I’m so glad it was something simple!

[Oh, photographers!  Don’t forget to change the time on your camera to daylight savings time (DST) if you have DST where you live.]

By the time I got the battery grip problem fixed, the Killdeer had walked or flown off.  I’ve gone all the way past post#9 and see a pair of Ring-necked Ducks off to the right in the canal with some nice morning light.  [Click on the thumbnails to view large].

As I get close to post #10 (just before leaving the woods), I see a mature Bald Eagle perched on a branch across the water to my right.  The eagle was in the shade but behind it was bright sunshine.  I took some shots and waited a while to see if the bird would fly.  After about 15 minutes I decided that I was wasting some good morning light waiting for this shaded eagle to fly.  Here are a few of the high key shots I got.

Fill flash with the Better Beamer was used on all 3 of these shots.  Even from 90 feet away,  I think it actually helped a little because this bird was well back lit.

Driving now between posts #12 & 13, about a hundred yards before the three trees, there’s a post down in front of Rest Lake, probably a good 80 to 90 feet from the road.  This is the same post where I saw my one and only short-eared owl back in Feb. of 2009.


Anyway, this time there’s a beautiful Northern Harrier hen perched on the post with some nice light coming from the southeastern skies.  It stayed there for about 10 minutes and I got a lot of shots.  If I had been thinking, I would have moved about 30 feet forward (after getting the perched shots) so that I’d be in a potentially better position when the bird decided to take flight.  Instead, my perspective was from slightly behind the bird as it flew parallel to the road in front of me.  Here are a few of the frames.

A few hundred feet down the road, just prior to the three trees, there’s a female Northern Flicker on the dike to my left.  Little bird, big crop!

Starting my second loop and I spot a female Red-winged Blackbird on a post between #2 and 3.

This pose reminds me of Elvis’ pose in this 1950’s album cover–minus the guitar 🙂 :

With light coming from the left, I used some fill flash here to make sure the front of the blackbird received at least some light.

Just across the road to my right, in the canal, is this Lesser Scaup pair.

The shot of the female was made with fill flash.

Between posts #6&7, there’s a large immature Bald Eagle perched on a tree branch located directly over the road.  Here’s a shot with the sun coming from the left side.

Just past the Kiwa Trail parking area on the right, I see a young Red-tailed Hawk basking in the sun.  He was partially blocked by tree branches so here is a close up shot.

Golden-crowned Sparrows are all over the place and here is one that let me take its picture.  Fill flash used here.

[All photos up to this point were taken at ISO500.  The rest below were taken at ISO800.]

In the Ash tree forest I spot another young RTH.  Fill flash also used on these hawk shots.

Looking across the road to the right, I see a Downy Woodpecker making its way up a tree trunk, stopping, and coming back down the tree trunk backwards, then moving forward again up the tree.  All the while he is busy pecking away and grabbing several critters from the bark that are about an inch or so long.

Again, fill flash was used on these woodpecker shots as the area was quite shaded at the time.  I think it really helped on these shots, taken at 1/1000 of a second.  I needed that shutter speed as this fellow was moving very quickly.  I’m thinking the Downy was at least 50 feet away and the Better Beamer flash extender seemed to do an adequate job of getting more reach out of my flash unit.

High-speed Sync as a side note, I am using the high-speed sync feature with my Canon 580EX light and Better Beamer combination.  It allows me to shoot at shutter speeds faster than the “normal” 1/250th.  Say I set the shutter speed to 1/1000 (in manual camera mode).  That’s not a lot of time, compared to the 1/250th speed, to let light into the lens from the flash.  I can hear the whining of the flash (after the shot) during its recharge that it has spent nearly all of its available energy on the flash that just occurred.  In this high-speed sync mode, the flash actually stays on for many times longer than it would in normal mode, which prevents half-blackened images that you would get in normal mode.  This explains why the power used in each high speed sync flash is so high.  You can turn the feature on for Canon lights by cycling the “lightning bolt-H” icon on the back of the flash.  The feature can be left on since it does not kick in unless you change the shutter speed to one faster than the maximum sync speed for many camera bodies, 1/250th.  Check your user’s manual or the Internet for more information.  Here’s a helpful explanation of high-speed sync: http://www.rpphoto.com/howto/view.asp?articleID=1026  Nikon and other brands also have this feature.

Expose to the Right!

If you’re into a photography genre where so often you find there is just not enough light to get a decent shot, such as in bird photography, then you’ve probably heard of the term, “expose to the right.”  For folks just getting into the hobby of bird photography, you may not have come across this concept yet.

We all hope that when we go out shooting birds, there is ample light to illuminate our subjects at a nice fast shutter speed, 1/2000+ if we can get it, along with an aperture setting that will give us good focus throughout the bird.  To help in this endeavor we could go out and buy a monster f2.8 lens that saves us a few f stops.  But then we’d have to mortgage the house or sell the car to get it.  But even the big lenses don’t resolve the problem in its entirety because there are a lot of factors that come into play.

Exposing to the right is a term that describes the act of exposing the whites as much as possible without blowing the critical ones.  If you look at your histogram of a shot, this means that the graph you see is moved all the way to the right as far as it will go without the graph going off the edge (where highlights would be clipped).  This is a good rule of thumb no matter what ISO you are shooting at, but it really comes into play with higher ISO settings, such as 800 – 1600.

Noise is our enemy with these higher ISO’s but noise can be limited if the image is exposed with as much light as possible without overexposing it.  This is the case because noise is much more noticeable in darker areas of an image.  We’ve all seen noise pop out of the image as we increase the exposure of an underexposed image in our raw editor or in Photoshop.  It’s really better to decrease the exposure of a slightly overexposed shot than having to increase the exposure of an underexposed shot.  In fact, many DSLR’s are conservative with their histogram graphs and show the highlights being clipped before they really ARE being clipped.  So when taking a shot, you can probably set the graph on your LCD screen to go off the right edge a little bit and still be able to save the highlight details in your raw editor.

So if you’re having to shoot at a high ISO due to lack of light, make the best image you can by exposing to the right and keeping noise at a minimum.

To bring this edition to a close—By 1:30 p.m. it began clouding up a lot and I decided to call it a day.  I put my gear away and headed on back home to see what I had captured.  As always, it’s great to have you as a reader of The Blog.  See you next time!

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 29th, 2011 at 10:07 pm and is filed under The Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Responses to “Mar. 23, 2011 – Wed. – Ridgefield NWR”

  1. jen says:

    Another great post… Thanks for the clock reminder- I realized I never changed my camera’s time! I love the blackbird shot and the Elvis comparison. Last summer I photographed an elk that bore a striking resemblance to Snoop Dogg, so I know how that can happen… I really liked the Downy with the critter too!

  2. George Hanson says:

    Your remarks about exposing to the right are particularly beneficial if you shot and process your images in raw format. Thanks for the neat blog! All of your images are terrific.

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