​Nature photography with a purpose

New Jersey Lizard

Five-lined Skinks are the only wild native lizard found in Northern New Jersey. I came across the large stunning male basking on a tree. Quite a peaceful moment we shared together in May of 2009. Photographed with the Tamron SP 180mm macro lens.


I always strive to get beyond the “pretty picture” with my nature photography and videography. I feel that being outdoors with my camera has been a continuous adventure and I hope that many others will have the same outdoor opportunities I have had.

When exhibiting a photograph in a gallery, be it brick & mortar or on the internet I provide as much context as I can. I hope to document natural history while doing my best to be a steward both to the visual arts and to the environment.

I have shared many personal encounters with native wildlife and find immense value in all plant and animal life be it great or small in size. My view is that a nature photographer must be a voice for the voiceless. We should strive to leave the world a better place than when we entered it. Empower yourself to make a difference by planting trees, joining a non-profit, documenting illegal dumping, submitting wildlife observations to your state. Every person can make a difference.

Not sure how you can contribute to the environmentalism movement? Send me an e-mail and I will give you more tips – dave@daveblinder.com


New Jersey Wildlife Photography: White-tailed Deer in Meadow

IMG_8426 copy

White-tailed Deer in Meadow
Mercer Meadows, New Jersey
Taken on a recent nature photography excursion, this frame is one of my favorite wildlife shots of the year. The soft light, swaying vegetation, and mostly concealed animal gave me an opportunity for a strong image. Photography and art are more about feel, emotion, and mood. Subject is not always paramount.
How would you describe the feeling of this image?

Purchasing any of the equipment below through my Amazon Affiliate Links will help support my blog.


Yucatan Wildlife Photography with the Tamron 18-400mm 

I hope this post is helpful for others looking to photograph wildlife near Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum. I also want to thank Tamron USA for lending me the jacknife of all travel lenses, the new 18-400mm. The broad range of this ultra telephoto All-In-One helped me image everything that moved (and a few things like ruins which did not move). I would sincerely recommend this lens to anyone looking for a versatile travel lens especially for nature which is one of my niches (addictions?).

Yucatan birding

Tropical Mockingbird in Cozumel Mexico

Tropical Mockingbird
Cozumel, Mexico
Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD lens + Canon SL2
Aperture Priority +2/3 exposure compensation
1/320th F/9 ISO 3200, 400mm

My first time observing this species. I could easily have mistaken this bird for the Northern Mockingbirds I often see at home. Body dimensions and wingtips do stand out to me as differing slightly between the two species.

Tamron 18-400mm bif

Turkey Vulture in flight and Caribbean Sea

Turkey Vulture in flight
Cozumel, Mexico
Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD lens + Canon SL2
Aperture Priority +2/3 exposure compensation
1/4000th F/9 ISO 6400, 400mm

The same vulture species we commonly see cleaning the roads in New Jersey. I like the small breaking wave of the Caribbean Sea in the background. I also like sharpness of the flight feathers now suspended in the frame. The Tamron 18-400mm VC did a very good job at tracking the action and also resolving the fine detail. Kudos to the Canon SL2 Rebel also for a clean enough shot at ISO 6400.

Tulum Mexico Nature Photography

Partially Leucistic Yucatan Jay in Tulum Mexico

Yucatan Jay – partially leucistic
Tulum, Mexico
Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD lens + Canon SL2
Aperture Priority +2/3 exposure compensation
1/1250th F/8 ISO 25600, 300mm

The genetic condition of leucism in birds will often cause a loss of pigment. I am not a scientist but I do know this condition varies from albininism as an albino animal should have discolored or pink eyes. Anyhow, this was quite a challenging photograph to capture as I was in the deep shade in a grove of trees, shooting almost vertically, and dealing with extreme heat. ISO 25600 is never a desirable as fine detail is sacrificed for a brighter exposure in low light.

Note that the shaded walk to the ruins of Tulum (approaching from the public beach side) has diverse trees including fruit trees making it a decent patch for birding.

Mexico Sandpiper Picture

Sanderling sandpiper in Tulum Mexico

Tulum, Mexico
Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD lens + Canon SL2
Aperture Priority +1 2/3 exposure compensation
1/250th F/9 ISO 400

A raised natural rock perch, overcast light, and uncluttered background brought this scene together for me. Sunrise Beach in Tulum is a very pleasant yet small public area. Lisa and I both enjoyed taking photographs here and you can walk on the scenic exposed rocks at low tide. It would be hard to take a bad picture in such a place.

Mexico Amphibian

Gulf Coast Toad in Coba Mexico

Gulf Coast Toad
Coba, Mexico
Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD lens + Canon SL2
Aperture Priority + 1/3 exposure compensation
1/25th F/10 ISO 1600, 100mm

An obliging subject at the base of a tree near ruins at Coba. Possibly my first time observing a Gulf Coast Toad, it’s dark lateral markings remind me a bit of a Wood Frog. An aperture of F/10 was selected to offer more depth of field than my typical walk-around setting of F/8. This is an uncropped image, the Tamron’s 1:2.9 (check this) macro ability is very useful for photographing small wildlife.

Yucatan Wildlife Photography

Striped Basilisk lizard at Coba Mexico

Striped Basilisk Lizard
Coba, Mexico
Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD lens + Canon SL2
Aperture Priority + 1/3 exposure compensation
1/320th F/9 ISO 800, 400mm

I did crop in on this, I played hide and seek with this lizard for several minutes but it was not going to sit still for me. A male Basilisk would like similar but have a large angular crest atop its head. I would have preferred a cleaner setting for the shot but my goal when I travel is to document as much wildlife diversity as I can.

Macro Insect Photography

Carmine Skimmer dragonfly in Cancun Mexico

Carmine Skimmer Dragonfly
Cancun, Mexico
Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD lens + Canon SL2
Aperture Priority + 0 exposure compensation
1/200th F/8 ISO 400, 400mm

I took this on a golf course during a morning walk from my resort. The Tamron 18-400mm looks like a good choice to me for dragonfly shooting. 400mm of telephoto reach, a short minimum focusing distance, and reputable Vibration Compensation (in lens anti-shake stabilization) are all very useful in the field.

Isla Mujeres birds

Cormorant and Gulls silhouette in Isla Mujeres Mexico

Cormorant and Gulls silhouette
Tortugranja, Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD lens + Canon SL2
Aperture Priority + 0 exposure compensation
1/2000th F/8 ISO 200, 227mm

I chose not to use my lens at its furthest zoom for this image to show more context. Compositionally this is a pretty basic rule-of-thirds layout. The muted scene looks rather postcard to me which is neither good nor bad, “it is what it is”. This might print well for a dentist’s office.

Ctenosaur Iguana picture

Ctenosaur (spiny-tailed iguana) in Mexico

El Ray Ruins, Cancun, Mexico
Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD lens + Canon SL2
Aperture Priority + 0 exposure compensation
1/250th F/10 ISO 400, 400mm

This large adult iguana is either surveying his territory, enjoying the breeze, or doing whatever else iguanas do. They are actually quite territorial and will confront other iguanas invading their turf. A good number of the iguanas we saw had tails in various stages of regeneration which is a nice evolutionary trick to have.

Fringe-toed Foamfrog

Sabinal Frog (aka Fringe-toed Foamfrog)

Sabinal Frog
El Ray Ruins, Cancun, Mexico
Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD lens + Canon SL2
Aperture Priority + 1 exposure compensation
1/160th F/9 ISO 800, 400mm

A very diminutive frog and hard to locate at first. I chose to show its flooded grassy environment to provide context and scale.  A big thank you to Bill McGighan for identifying my photo for me.

Cancun Crocodile Picture

American Crocodile in Cancun

American Crocodile
Cancun, Mexico
Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD lens + Canon SL2
Aperture Priority + 1 exposure compensation
1/500th F/10 ISO 400, 200mm

A small individual, this one was on the edge of the lagoon just behind a gift shop in Cancun. I had seen another tourist couple looking down in the lagoon and had a hunch of what they were looking at. After a couple of photographs and a quick conversation with the couple from Manchester UK we bid the reptile and the humans good day.

Mexico butterfly picture

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly in Cancun Mexico

Gulf Fritillary
Coral Beach, Cancun, Mexico
Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD lens + Canon SL2
Manual Exposure
1/100th F/8 ISO 1600, 227mm

The wildlife habitat at Coral Beach was less than overwhelming, however it did have more vegetation than most other parts of the tourist city. Coral Beach (also called Mirador) is a very pleasant place to walk around and a good way to avoid the crowds on the rest of the boulevard. Vibration Compensation saved the day on this shot, with a low handheld shutter speed of 1/100th at ISO 1600 I did not want to raise the ISO at the expense of fine detail.


Let me know if you have any questions or comments about the photographs, locations, or lens/camera setup I will do my best to help.


Purchase the Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 DI-II VC HLD All-In-One Zoom through my affiliate link to help support my blog

Tamron 18-400mm for Canon APS-C

Tamron 18-400mm for Nikon

Canon EOS Canon EOS Rebel SL2 24 Megapixel Digital SLR Camera Body Only

Kayaking with the Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD

NJ Photography

Kayaking in NJ with the Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD

I brought the new Tamron USA 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD all-in-one lens out on the water with me for kayaking this past weekend.

Outdoor Photography in NJ

Kayaking at Monksville Reservoir in NJ with the Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD

All shots taken handheld along with the Canon Rebel SL2.

Mallards on Monksville Reservoir

Kayaking at Monksville Reservoir in NJ with the Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD

The location is Monksville Reservoir which is an incredible natural resource situated in Northern New Jersey.

NJ Adventure Photography

Kayaking at Monksville Reservoir in NJ with the Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD

The compact lens + camera combo fit easily into my dry bag.

Great Blue Heron at Monksville Reservoir

Kayaking at Monksville Reservoir in NJ with the Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD

It is important to me to be able to photograph both scenery and wildlife when I am out on the water.

NJ Wildlife Photography

Kayaking at Monksville Reservoir in NJ with the Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD

The 18-400mm is a great versatile tool for outdoor adventures.

NJ Adventure Photography

Kayaking at Monksville Reservoir in NJ with the Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD

Purchase the Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD all-in one now lens through my Amazon affiliate links and I get a small commission to fund future adventures.

Tamron 18-400mm for Canon

Tamron 18-400mm for Nikon


Have any questions on camera gear or settings?  Ask in the comments and I will do my best to answer.

Florida Nature Photography: American Alligator

It is always a good idea to “work the scene” when out performing nature photography.  Our instincts may lead us to shoot a subject from a specific angle that has worked well for us in the past, or maybe even to mimic what we have seen in a magazine.  However, there are nearly infinite ways to image an animal, plant, or landscape when we factor in using different focal lengths, varied camera angles, and also begin to think abstractly.  One alternative type of shot is  to fill the frame with nothing but the texture of a live animal’s skin, fur, or feathers.  In this case we are looking at the “business side” of an American Alligator’s body.  Yes, the animal is both free and alive.

Alligator photo

An intimate view of the ridges atop an Alligator’s body. All other contextual clues are eliminated from the frame. #Photo taken with the #Tamron SP 70-300mm VC lens and the #Canon 6D.

New York Nature Photography: Common Porcupine

Yesterday Lisa and I took a drive to the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway, an area best known to photographers for Bald Eagle viewing in the colder months.  I did see three Eagles, although none happened to be close enough for good photos.  The highlight for the trip of us, was a Porcupine busily gnawing away on Spruce needles not much more than 15 feet off the ground.  The only other live and wild Porcupine I’ve seen in North America was completely balled up in a sleeping position.

To take this photo, I mounted my Tamron SP 150-600mm VC lens onto my tripod and then dialed in the most appropriate exposure settings.  In Aperture Priority mode, I set the aperture to F/8.0 and with overcast skies no ISO short of 1600 would do.  My initial shots with an exposure compensation of ~ +1.0 stops light added were still very dark.  When I got to +2.7 stops I was happy with the tonality of the image.  The only thing left to do was to wail on the shutter button to try for sharp captures without motion blur.  Best resultant photo below:

NY Wildlife Photography

A photograph of a porcupine eating Spruce needles on a snow covered branch. Photo taken in Sullivan County, #NewYork with the #Tamron SP 150-600mm VC lens and the #Canon EOS 60D DSLR.

Common Porcupine, Sullivan County in New York. Exposure settings: 1/100 F/8.0 ISO 1600, 500mm

Image Optimization: An Eastern Chipmunk

I will precurse the photos with a disclaimer that I find it difficult to walk by the enumerated Eastern Chipmunk without taking a picture EVERY SINGLE TIME.  That being said, below is a peak at my RAW conversion workflow for a new wildlife photo.

nature photography photoshop workflow

Left side is with my saved Camera RAW defaults applied. Right side is my output image with contrast and further sharpening and noise reduction applied for web/general print.

The above composite is a megacrop created only for the purpose of showing my 2 minute plunderings in the “digital darkroom”.  Get the settings correct in-camera, expose to the right, and make sure the initial file is sharp.

New Jersey Wildlife Photographer

A small brown rodent takes a break from fattening up on acorns to ponder what the heck this human is doing.

1/80 F/8 ISO 400.  Taken with the Tamron SP 150-600mm lens, the Canon EOS 7D, and a Manfrotto tripod with fluid head.

I got lucky that the chipmunk paused just behind a couple of vivid fallen leaves.  To me, they are the icing on the cake and a fortunate happenstance.

Selective Sharpening in Nature Photography: American Black Bear

My typical nature photo post-processing workflow is very short and sweet unless I have to remove sensor dust spots from shoot at a vary small aperture.  I do like to present my images as realistically and un-manipulated as possible.  My still image format is always camera RAW to get the best possible dynamic range and so that I can make my own decisions over noise reduction and sharpening.  I had the great fortune of finding a wild Black Bear descending a tree in Northern New Jersey today.

Here is my finalized and optimized image with my typical watermarks and downsized at 900px as I generally do for web usage:

ursus american

A wild Black Bear descending a tree in North NJ. Photographed with the Tamron SP 150-600mm VC, the Canon EOS 7D, and a Manfrotto tripod.

Taken with a tripod-mounted Tamron SP 150-600mm VC Lens and Canon EOS 7D.  I had no time to prepare for the shot or change my camera settings.  I had previously dialed in ISO 800 F/8.0 +2/3 Exposure Compensation in Aperture Priority Mode, so the shutter speed was to be determined by my camera’s meter.  In this particular shot my 7D did a good job of gauging the brightness and I was left with a shutter speed of 1/80th of a second and a good exposure.  In the world of wildlife though, this is a relatively slow setting and prime for blur of subject movement.

Below are 100% crops to reveal what is really going on behind the scenes in my “digital darkroom”

RAW versus JPEG

On the right is a very unflattering view of my unprocessed RAW at high magnification and on the left is a slightly more flattering view of my output JPEG at the same magnification.

As you can see the eye and fur definition is lacking on the SOOC file on the right.  The Tamron SP 150-600mm VC is very sharp near the 400mm focal length and at apertures like F/8.  Unfortunately AI Servo focus is often less accurate than One-Shot focus.  Other reasons for image softness may include: very slight subject movement, auto-focus sensor slightly off the bear’s eye, shooting in the shade (low contrast on subject), and perhaps the panning movement on my tripod head.

After my initial default global sharpening of the RAW file, I applied an additional low-intensity High-Pass Sharpening layer.  I still was not happy with the definition on the bear’s face.  I created an additional layer of global High-Pass sharpening, but this time I erased the effect off of the background to prevent introduction of widespread digital noise.  I also feathered the remaining sharpening a bit, by tracing the bear’s outline with an eraser tool set to 50% to maintain a natural transition from subject to foreground.  This is one method of performing selective sharpening to optimize images and get the best out of your photos.

Happy to answer any questions about my workflow if you leave them in the comments.

Photographing wildlife in harsh lighting: an Eastern Fence Lizard

Below we have a photo of a small, harmless, and downright cute Eastern Fence Lizard.  A native reptile of New Jersey that is widespread within its habitat, but generally not familiar to residents of Northern New Jersey.

Sceloporus undulatus

A closeup photograph of a wild New Jersey reptile taken with a Tamron macro lens and a Canon DSLR.

Photo taken with the Tamron SP 90mm VC F/2.8 Macro Lens and the Canon EOS 7D.  Camera settings: Shutter at 1/100 Aperture at F/3.2 and an ISO speed of 200.  One Shot focus mode, camera handheld, VC On, RAW image format, manual exposure mode, auto white balance.

F/3.2 is not the punchiest aperture of my lens, but it does yield acceptable sharpness.  Shallow depth of field was very important to me in the making of this photo.  My “go to aperture” for macro of F/5.6 brought a lot more detail in the foreground AND the background.  The impact of this photo is in its simplicity and having prominent background shapes and textures strongly detracts from this type of “mid-day silhouette capture”.

Clearly with the sun high in the sky and without cloud cover, the natural illumination of the subject is going to be uneven with a large contrast between the shadows and the highlights.  Many established photographers would call this “bad light” or “problematic light”.  This is not necessarily the easiest condition to create impactful photos in but by manually exposing for the subject’s mid-tones and shooting into an uncluttered background I’ve created a minimalistic photo that evokes thoughts of desert climates.

Bird Photography in Cape May – American Goldfinch

I was recently down in Cape May to do some nature photography.  Since CM is the undisputed birding capital of New Jersey, it only makes sense to take a long telephoto lens along like the Tamron SP 150-600mm VC.  Below is one of my favorite captures from this excursion.

Bird Photography

A closeup view of a female American Goldfinch at rest on a Sunflower in Cape May, New Jersey.

Shutter speed: 1/500 Aperture: F/9.0 ISO: 200 in Aperture Priority Mode +2/3 Exposure Compensation.  The Focal Length is 500mm.  Other settings: VC On, Manfrotto tripod, Spot Metering, Manual White Balance on my Canon EOS 7D

There was a flock of at least 1 or 2 dozen Goldfinches busily feeding in this Sunflower Patch, but upon my approach they retreated to the trees which is the expected response from most songbirds.  Most wildlife is genetically imprinted to flee from humans, as they were historically a food source in the days when hunting was our only means of sustenance.  Experience and literature will tell us that individual bird species have their own expected “flush range”.  Meaning different birds will typically fly away faster than others.  In my personal experience, a very slow but direct approach on a feeding Goldfinch may occasionally get you as close as you want to get.

This particular female American Goldfinch did not fly when the rest of her flock retreated, instead it appeared to me that this bird was mostly basking in the warmth of the sunlight.  She was splitting her time between preening (tending to her feathers) and plucking seeds from the Sunflower head below her.  After years of bird observation, I could tell that this bird was relaxed because it showed no intention of flying away and also lacked the nervous head movements and body twitching that comes before the songbird flushes (flying away).  I got my tripod to the desired photographic height and slowly worked my way forward, one large deliberate by quiet footstep at a time.  The photo featured on this page is not cropped whatsoever and I would not have wanted to shoot it any tighter.  After I was done making my captures I exited the scene in the same slow and deliberate manner to not cause undue stress to the passerine (songbird).