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

Sanderling
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

Ctenosaur
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

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Tamron 18-400mm Di II VC HLD does birds in flight

An unexpected recent handheld shot that worked out well for me.  I was outdoors photographing scenery and was fortunate to have the versatile Tamron 18-400mm Di II VC lens mounted to capture this Great Egret in flight.  The fine detail looks very good to me.

DaveBlinder GreatEgret Tamron 18400mm IMG_1601crop

Exposure details:

Tamron 18-400mm VC + Canon SL2 handheld

1/3200 F/8.0 IS 400

-1/3 in Aperture Priority exposure mode

AI Servo autofocus

Raw image quality

For a closer look at this image, please download the uncropped full-resolution image from my Google Drive account.

Sony A7R for Wildlife Video

As Spring warms up our Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, wildlife activity in general does pick up.  I am mostly resuming where I left off last year with local wildlife videography in attempts to challenge myself, and also to entertain viewers.  My “new used” Sony A7R has been my primary camera of late, and for wildlife jaunts, I have my trusty Canon EF mount Tamron SP 150-600mm VC lens paired using a Fotodio Pro adapter.

DSC_0482

Below are three recent wildlife shorts that I have filmed and edited in various natural areas in New Jersey.

 

March Waterfowl at the Manasquan Reservoir

 

Wood Duck at the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

 

Tree Swallows at the New Jersey Meadowlands

 

More recent wildlife photography and videography is viewable on Dave Blinder Nature Photography on Facebook

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

What kind of fly are you?

I won’t try to take any credit for getting a fly to land next to this Gray Treefrog metamorph.  I will take credit for being in the right place at the right time and shooting a lot more frames than your average photographer.

dslr macro photography

Chance encounters of the macro type

Photography equipment: Tamron SP 90mm VC F/2.8 1:1 Macro Lens + Canon EOS 50D, handheld.  Shutter speed 1/250 Aperture at F/5.6 ISO 200.  One shot focusing with continuous motor drive active.

Luck was on my side, because the fly got so close to the frog that both of their eyes are in focus.  I actually have a frame where the fly puts one if its feet on the frog’s face, but the whole frame is blurred so that won’t be seeing the light of day.  ….Unless you want to PayPal me $200 🙂

One can never expect unlikely interactions like this to occur, but as Arthur Morris has stated “When unexpected action happens, press the shutter and hope for the best”.  Good advice if you ask me.

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).

American Rubyspot damsefly in NJ

This a recent macro insect photo I took in the region of New Jersey known as the Pinelands National Reserve, home to ecosystems and wildlife not often seen in other parts of our state.  Photography equipment utilized: Tamron SP 90mm VC F/2.8 1:1 Macro Lens and the Canon EOS 7D DSLR.  Damselflies are generally smaller than dragonflies, but fall under the same order known as odonata.  Pictured below is a male American Rubyspot damselfly, its Latin name is Hetaerina americana.

NJ insect photo

One of New Jersey’s most vivid damselflies.

I actually ended up wading in standing water that was thigh high to take this photograph.  I saw several Rubyspots perched on vegetation in this pond.  I wasn’t thrilled to get to my cargo shorts soaking wet, but I had to decide to either walk away from a photo opportunity or “dive right into the scene”.

The sunlight was fairly overcast when I snapped this shot so a fast shutter speed was not possible.  Dragging a good tripod into a pond didn’t seem like a good idea, and a tripod is not really an asset when making a still capture of an insect perched on a piece of grass with forces like water ripples and a breeze causing motion.  Handheld and fairly large aperture was the only way this shot was going to happen.

I’ve had a few people tell me that they find a 300mm lens sufficient for shooting small insects, but the reality is you are not going to get this type of highly magnified photo without a 1:1 macro lens.  In this case the fast autofocus and Vibration Compensation were also needed.  Camera settings:  1/125 F/5.0 ISO 400, VC on, Auto White Balance, RAW file format, One Shot focus in continuous drive mode.

Uncommon wildlife encounters

I have no problem photographing the ordinary and trying my hardest to make it look flattering, but every once in a while you stumble upon an animal or scenic opportunity that you feel very lucky to have encountered.  That’s how I felt when I discovered a group of young American Alligators calling for their not too distant mother.  I assumed I would have plenty of opportunities to photograph adult Gators on my Florida trip, but didn’t dream of a golden chance like this.

Baby Gator in Wetlands

Young American Alligator

Right Place, Right Time

Sometimes it just pays to be lucky in photography, and that’s pretty much how I came across this wildlife photo opportunity. Anticipating possible action, being prepared, and visualizing how to maximize the opportunity are also very helpful.

Salamander eating

Red Eft and Earthworm

I like to do my photography rounds with two camera bodies ready to shoot and two distinctly different focal lengths. Generally, I will have either a macro lens or a wide angle lens on one DSLR and a longer telephoto lens (400mm) mounted on the other camera. Currently, no all-in-one zoom or all-in-one camera can match the image quality attainable using specialized lenses as standardized charts and personal experience have taught me.

How else can you be prepared? Remove the lens caps in advance, leave your DSLR switched on (they go into convenient standby mode anyways), and have the camera settings attuned to the current ambient lighting situation as best as possible. A formatted memory card and extra batteries are a must for me as well.

Maximizing the opportunity:
Let’s talk about this particular shot. I did not immediately realize there was a tiny amphibian chowing down in front of me as I don’t have superhuman vision, but once I did I knew that I wanted to get in as close possible to emphasize the action, to allow my macro flash setup to illuminate the key elements, and to eliminate the need to crop my final photo and waste valuable megapixels of the image. Cropping reduces the maximum print size of an image, and also emphasizes imperfections like noise (film grain).

Luck?  Well you’re one your own with that one.