Studebaker Bird Photography Newsletter #2

02Jun09

Arizona Workshop Report

With 28 species of birds coming to our water drips and feeders during the three day workshop, perfect weather (sunny and upper 70’s) and great company, the Arizona workshop this April was a trip to remember. Getting there was half the fun sometimes. The drive from the Tucson airport to our shooting locations was beautiful, as was the views of the Santa Rita Mountains out the plane window.

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A snapshot taken on my drive from Tucson to our first shooting location.

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Another snapshot of the Santa Ritas taken out my plane window.

The birds were in fresh plumage and very cooperative. Day 1 I provided a continental breakfast at dawn and then proceeded to do an introductory set-up with desert species. Hooded Orioles were on our perches before we even had a chance to get in the blinds. Day 2 we shot near the Santa Rita Lodge in Madera canyon a few miles away and were rewarded with Mexican Jays, Acorn Woodpeckers, Magnificent Hummingbirds, Lesser Goldfinches, a brief visit from two Lazuli Buntings, and much much more. Day 3 we again photographed in the desert with great sessions with Lucy’s Warblers, Broad-billed and Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Gambles Quail, Ladder-backed and Gila Woodpeckers, and others. Freddy Franzella ended up with over 8000 images in three days. I had the opportunity to meet both Tom Vezo and Joe McDonald photographing in the area as well. Before heading out for the afternoon shoots we held informative slideshows, informal critique/image review, and Photoshop demonstrations. Here are a few favorite shots from the trip:

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Hooded Oriole

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Lucy’s Warbler

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Black-throated Sparrow

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Broad-billed Hummingbird

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Acorn Woodpecker

Shawnee Workshop Report

The stars of our two day workshop were a Northern Parula who took his time singing from some Redbud Branches we set up in front of a beautiful soft background. We all got hundreds of photos of him in various poses and perches. We also had a Prairie Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and White-eyed Vireo use our set-ups, and had some great encounters with Blue-winged Warblers and Kentucky Warblers on perches of their own choosing. This year we used the Shawnee Resort as our home base which worked out wonderfully. The lodge parking lot itself contained 6 species of warblers, a whippoorwill, towhees, lots of chipping sparrows and hummingbirds.

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Southern Ohio Forest with Redbud Trees in Bloom.

The forest was certainly in its prime with incredible concentrations of flowering trees throughout. Here is my favorite image from the weekend, as I have not had time to edit others:

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Northern Parula

Excerpt from my forthcoming book “The Complete Guide to Digital Bird Photography”

Photoshop Technique Tip: Sharpening

When digital images are resized, they lose a little bit of their crisp, sharp appearance. That’s where the Unsharp Mask comes in. The most common times photographers resize their files are when creating a print, or resizing their file for the internet. Sharpening with the Unsharp Mask in Photoshop works best with photos that are already sharp. The unsharp mask can’t help much with making photos sharp that were never sharp to begin with. Only sharpen your images after all other changes have been made, and use sharpening as the very last step before printing or saving the file for the web. Please note that while in moderation, sharpening makes an image appear to gain visual information, it actually degrades the image causing it to lose information. For this reason, I never sharpen my master work file. Sharpening also can increase “noise” in areas that appear out of focus. Because background noise should be kept to a minimum, I usually only selectively apply sharpening to my images. I simply select the bird and any other in focus elements in the frame and sharpen those elements, leaving the background alone.

Once you have roughly selected the in-focus elements of the layer of the image you wish to sharpen in Photoshop, chose Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask from the menu bar at the top of the screen. This opens the Unsharp Mask’s settings and options. When saving for the web, though it’s just a matter of personal taste, most photographers use the “amount” setting at 100%, the “radius” setting at 0.2 pixels, and the “threshold” at 0 levels. I usually apply this between 3 and 5 times as needed. When saving a file for printing after resizing it, if I sharpen it at all, I use settings of “amount” at 100%, “radius” at about 1.0 pixel, and “threshold” at 0 levels. There are some photographers who go through very complex steps to determine how much to sharpen their images, but for the most part, I believe less is more. The need for complex sharpening probably means the image wasn’t sharp to begin with and could probably be tossed out.

Once in a while I will use additional sharpening on areas of a bird where the detail can tend to get lost, for example on the breast of bright yellow or red birds. While the detail may be there in the original file, when the image is resized, the detail in these intense color areas can get lost, but regained with a little extra sharpening. The most common mistake I see photographers make is to either use too large of a sharpening radius which creates a sort of halo or glow around the edge of the bird and perch, which looks very unnatural. I also see photographers use the other sharpening tools in Photoshop such as “Sharpen More”. Unsharp mask really is the most refined tool available and the other tools tend to over-sharpen and leave sharpening halos. Remember, the Unsharp Mask should be used sparingly and only as a final touch.

Other Bird Photography Career News this Month

  • I bought a second Canon 40D and 500mm lens with while my originals were in the shop for maintenance so now have an extra of each, should anyone be in the market for equipment used only a couple times.

  • Look for my images to be used in The Wood Duck Society’s publications in the near future.

Where to Photograph Birds in Ohio during the Month of May and June:

– Crane Creek State Park (Magee Marsh) will usher through a wonderful diversity of migrants all month.

– Look for shorebirds especially from May 15-25 at local shorebird hotspots like Conneaut.

– Songbirds arrive on territory in all the grasslands and forests of Ohio . No one forest is better than another for breeding songbirds, but the trend is the larger the forest, the better for finding rarer and more diverse species. Wayne National Forest in southern Ohio needs more coverage and research, as does Mohican State Park and Salt Fork State Park in central Ohio .

– Watch backyard birdfeeders for unusual feeder visitors including Red-headed Woodpecker, Purple Finch, Eastern Towhee, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles and Indigo Bunting. If you have an active feeder set up for orioles so that it gets evening or morning light and has a nice background behind it (mowed lawn is always good), spread the word! North Chagrin Reservation and Crane Creek State Park both have nice activity especially for Orioles but are set up all wrong for light and backgrounds. My own backyard feeders attract very little. I’m still looking for a good oriole photo location within 300 miles of Cleveland .

Good Bird Photography to All,

-Matthew

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