Studebaker Bird Photography Newsletter #3

02Jun09

Unannounced Southern Ohio Warbler Workshop Report

A participant and I did a “test” weekend workshop in some southern Ohio forests and had wonderful success with various species. A beautiful two day workshop was had based out of the Lake Hope State Park cabins. The cabins are anything but primitive – they have several rooms, full kitchen, AC and heat, porch; they are like free standing hotel suites for a mere $65 per night. Our star birds were a cooperative Scarlet Tanager, Prothonotary Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, White-eyed Vireo, and Louisiana Waterthrush. We were also able to photograph a Black-and-white Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Towhee, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and others. Despite the occasional showers, we managed excellent photos and incredible experiences with some of the country’s most beautiful songbirds. Here are a few of my favorite shots from the trip:

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Worm-eating Warbler | May 2008 | Canon 40D | Canon 500mm f4 IS |

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Prothonotary Warbler | May 2008 | Canon 40D | Canon 500mm f4 IS |

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White-eyed Vireo | May 2008 | Canon 40D | Canon 500mm f4 IS |

Northern Ohio Warbler Workshops Report

Weekend 1 – We started the trip with a sunny morning and a Scarlet Tanager who poses for our group on the same weekend every year. He only is cooperative for the first couple days he arrives in Ohio , and then hides in the treetops for the rest of the season. Our timing was perfect as he sang within a few feet of us several times, landing on some rustic old stumps down low in beautiful light, taking his time, allowing us all to get hundreds of shots. The rest of the day a front moved in and prevented us from getting much more in the way of photographs after our mid-afternoon slideshow. Requests from the participants to get Cerulean Warbler, Henslow’s and Grasshopper Sparrows were yet to be met. Day 2 was very rainy and still the birds were most accommodating. We had a Cerulean Warbler landing almost at our feet singing in the rain with a Yellow Warbler joining him shortly. We also had a blue winged warbler land on a set-up perch of flowers several times along with very cooperative Grasshopper and Henslow’s Sparrows singing in a grassland where the rain turned the grass to a beautiful copper color. All three requests were nicely satisfied and our evening meal at Cracker Barrel felt like a celebration feast.

Weekend 2 – We had even light throughout the day (a nice way of describing cloudy weather) which was perfect for our first bird, an incredibly cooperative Bobolink which repeatedly landed on our perch simply because we placed it so that it was the tallest plant in his territory. Good luck followed us the rest of the day with not one but two Cerulean Warblers accommodating our group with multiple sessions of landing on nice perches with great light. We also had a couple Indigo Buntings sing for us, Blue-grey Gnatcatchers come in and investigate our group (they are very curious little birds), along with Eastern Bluebirds and a chipping sparrow allow for some shots. The next morning we drove into the heart of Prothonotary Warbler territory in Ohio and had several cooperative birds. A big front moved in Sunday we had a Savannah Sparrow in perfect plumage grace us with a long session of him singing from some rather photogenic phragmites. Rather than posting more of my photos, Greg Schneider, one of my participants, is allowing me to show off his beautiful results from our weekend workshop:

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Indigo Bunting by Greg Schneider

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Savannah Sparrowby Greg Schneider

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Cerulean Warblerby Greg Schneider

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

Tech Tip: Using your Camera’s Histogram (still to be edited for final book version)

While modern digital cameras provide the photographer with the luxury of instantly previewing images on your camera display while still in the field, it can be difficult to really tell whether the images are coming out properly exposed just by looking at a 2 inch thumbnail image on the back of the camera. Most DSLR cameras today also have an option which allows photographers to view a histogram of their images along with the image preview. Histograms essentially measure the relative brightness of each pixel in an image. The horizontal axis of the histogram graph displays each pixel’s brightness (also known as tonal values or luminance) at 256 levels or categories of intensity. These 256 levels represent the entire dynamic range of the camera. In other words, the camera can only record tonal values within this range. Pixel information outside this range is simply registered as pure white or pure black. On the left we see the darkest pixels all the way to the far right showing pixels that register as bright or nearly white. The vertical axis of the histogram graph represents the relative number of pixels in the image which occur at a given level of brightness. So a tall vertical bar in the histogram means a lot of image data occurs at that given tonal value.

While there is no such thing as a perfect histogram, most scenes should show histogram data distributed over the entire dynamic range, looking something like a standard bell curve, with the tallest histogram bars falling near the center, midtone value range. If possible, it’s best if most of the image data is on the right side of the histogram, since the brightest end of the histogram has the potential to contain sixteen times more information than the dark end. Keeping the information to the right helps reduce noise and digital artifacts in the image, though exposing to the right also carries with it the risk to overexpose the image. Many cameras have blown highlight warnings in the form of blinking pixels. These blinking pixels are the ones found at level 255 and 256 which essentially are empty, unrecorded, overexposed data. Seeing blinking pixels or lots of information in the histogram at the far right is indicative that the photographer needs to use exposure compensation in order to record information in the highlights. Before approaching a subject or setting up in a blind, I usually make a few test shots and then glance at the image preview and histogram and then make the necessary adjustments (if any) so that I am confident that my exposures will be correct during the shoot. If the light changes (like during sunrise or if a cloud temporarily blocks the sun) I’ll also take test shots or look at actual shots of my subject during the photo session.

Other Bird Photography Career News this Month

  • Look for my photos in upcoming issues of Birder’s World, and Birding Magazine (look for the photos of Bobolink and Eastern Wood Pewee).
  • A forthcoming book calledImportant Bird Areas of Ohio” to be published by Audubon Ohio will also be using some of my shots of waterfowl

One of my favorite images I got this spring: Kirtland’s Warbler | May 2008 | Canon 40D | Canon 500mm f4 IS |

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Where to Photograph in Ohio in June:

-Early Summer is the perfect time to find parents feeding young birds

– Check Ira Rd Trailhead at Cuyahoga Valley National Park for Wood Duck hens with Ducklings

-Grassland Birds start breeding at places like Egypt Valley Wildlife Area or Woodbury Wildlife Area.

– Birds at nests can be fantastic subject matter for photography, just take great care not to disrupt the bird’s feeding routines, etc. It is mandatory that the photography observe the bird concealed from a distance to understand its routine behavior before moving in closer. Unless you know the bird’s routine you’ll never know if you’ve disrupted the normal routine, jeopardizing the bird’s eggs or young. Always work from a blind when shooting near nests.

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