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.

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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.

On Snake photography…

I find it’s hard to take a great snake photo. One of the main issues is that there elongated body shape is not naturally conducive to the aspect ratio of a photograph, unless you are shooting panoramas. My personal opinion is that going in close for just a headshot of wildlife often yields great detail, but may also remove artistic longevity from the final image. Alternatively, it is very difficult to compose a compelling wideangle photograph of most wildlife for a variety of reasons. One being that their habitat is often simply too cluttered to create a compelling frame. Another reason is obviously that most wildlife is generally on the move, so you aren’t typically going to have the chance to to compose something grandiose.

Snake

Black Ratsnake; juvenile

I am fairly satisfied with this photo, because the snake coiled in a way (striking position) that allowed me to get close enough to eliminate a largely distracting background. At the same time, I was not only lucky enough to get a bit of its body in the frame, but I was also able to shoot a frame where the snake’s head was in profile. This was also difficult as this wary and aggravated snake really did not trust me to take its eyes off of me for very long.