Archives for April 2012

Nikon D4 In The Everglades…A Washout

I awoke at 3:00am to the flash of lightning and the sound of thunder clapping directly overhead.  I jumped from the bed and looked out the window onto a wild scene.  The wind was blowing so hard it was hard to tell what direction the rain was coming from.  I felt like I was in a drive through car wash.  This was not boding well for an early morning stroll along the Anhinga Trail.  I climbed back in bed for a few hours sleep hoping that the storm would pass soon.  It was not to be.  The rain poured, the wind howled and we stayed snug in our room relaxing for a few hours.  Around mid-morning we decided to venture out to take a drive to Flamingo anyway.

With rain as our constant companion we made the thirty-something mile drive with very few wildlife sightings.  It was no wonder with the weather that the wildlife had hunkered down to wait the storm out.  I did manage to make a few images in the rain that I liked.  A gator peering out from the water in grey light was converted to B&W.  I like the rain drops on the water…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 200-400mm f4 VR, TC-20E III...1600 ISO f8 @ 1/500

 

Nearby, a group of vultures hunkered down in the rain looking even gloomier than normal (if that’s possible)…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 200-400mm f4 VR, TC-20E III...1600 ISO f8 @ 1/125

 

But, it was the Red-shouldered Hawk we found down the road a bit that pretty much summed up our day photographically…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 200-400mm f4 VR, TC-20E III...1600 ISO f8 @ 1/500

 

Mind you I am not complaining.  They need the rain, we had a nice drive and I still made an image or two.  Tomorrow is another day.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

Nikon D4 Quick Stop At Cape Coral & Loop Road

We had a long drive ahead of us when we departed Sarasota and headed towards the Everglades but, I hadn’t been to Cape Coral to photograph the Burrowing Owls in years so a quick stop was in order.  It’s really easy to find the owls as there are white pvc pipes surrounding their burrows.  They can be found in vacant lots, bank, church, store parking lots and even in people’s yards (be courteous of private property).  Nesting on the ground like they do makes Burrowing Owls vulnerable and they are shy little guys, on constant alert so a slow approach is needed to get in range.  I collapse my tripod to its shortest height (leaving the bottom leg out 2-3 inches to keep the dirt out of the locks) to lower myself to their eye level and move in slowly, slowly, slowly…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 200-400mm f4 VR, TC-20E III...200 ISO f8 @ 1/350

 

Continuing on we took another detour along Loop Road.  Just as we turned onto the gravel road the skies opened up and poured bucket loads of water on us for a short time.  We bounced our way down the road with wipers going full speed and barely seeing through the windshield.  The drought conditions of the area had dried up all the swamps and the black water Cypress reflections were nowhere to be found.  We did, however, have a Red-shouldered Hawk fly right in front of us and land on the ground.  I thought it had nailed a mouse or snake but, it shook itself off and flew up to a tree just above us.  Out came my camera and I zoomed in a bit, composed, exposed and clicked to capture the insurance shot…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 200-400mm f4 VR, TC-20E III...400 ISO f8 @ 1/180

 

Quickly glancing at the rear lcd confirmed that the exposure was right on but, the bright areas bothered me.  The Red-shoulder was in hunt mode and paying little attention to me other than a glance here an there so, I slowly moved to the right to eliminate as much of the bright background as I could…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 200-400mm f4 VR, TC-20E III...400 ISO f8@ 1/180

 

Now there was a bright area on the right and I really didn’t care for the camera angle shooting nearly straight up.  So, I backed up, zoomed in, raised my ISO (as I was handholding and not real comfortable with 1/180 of a second) and moved to the left a bit…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 200-400mm f4 VR, TC-20E III...800 ISO f8 @ 1/350

 

Now that’s more like it!  All in all, it only took a few minutes to get from shot one to the final image.  Luckily I had a cooperative subject.  Time to move on to the Everglades.  Stay tuned.

Nikon D4 Goes To DeSoto

No trip to the St Pete/Tampa area is complete without a visit to Fort DeSoto so, 7:00am found my friend, Joan, and I pulling into the parking lot.  We quickly gathered our gear together and set off for the beach.  There had been regular sitings of a Long-billed Curlew as well as both a Reddish Egret and it’s white morph mate so, I was eager to say the least.  In my opinion, the worst day I have ever had at Fort DeSoto was happily productive and today was beyond my dreams for the few hour window I had to spare.  We were blessed with a lovely morning, soft, golden light as the sun played peek-a-boo amongst the clouds.

A quick scan of the beach confirmed that the pair of Reddish Egrets were around but, too far away to photograph at the moment.  There were also a small flock of Black Skimmers and assorted terns at the water’s edge so we slowly worked our way towards them keeping our tripod legs compacted (with about 6″ of the lowest leg extended to keep the lock from getting in the sand) to stay low.  There are several reasons to stay low when approaching and photographing shorebirds…First, they are nervous of predators approaching from above.  It makes them vulnerable.  Second, you can achieve a softer background when you are low shooting at your subject rather than shooting down towards the ground.  And, third, is that you want to be at your subjects level to capture it in a pleasing manner.  Shooting down of a low subject diminishes it and doesn’t allow you to capture the little nuances of a tilted head , or close detail at eye-level.  The light level was still a bit low and with a 2X teleconverter on my 200-400mm f4 lens, my maximum aperture was f8 so, I raised my ISO to 800 without fear of noise in order to capture sharp images of moving subjects.  You never know when a Royal Tern will quickly raise it’s head to call for it’s mate…

 

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 200-400mm f4 VR, TC-20E III...800 ISO f8 @ 1/350

 

Skimmers, well, skim, the surface of the water to catch small fish.  The elongated lower mandible is designed for scooping the fish into it’s mouth while it’s top bill snaps shut securing the fish while it flies to shore.  Wanting to emphasize it’s wing-span and draw you visually to the skimmer, I chose to crop the image into a pano…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 200-400mm f4 VR, TC-20E III...800 ISO f8 @ 1/1000

 

Morning is a great time to capture bathing, preening and wing flap behavior as the first thing the shorebirds do in the morning is to head to water and “freshen up” for the day.  We had a variety of subjects to choose from.  I love the shades of grey, the black head with the white eye-rings and the colorful bill of a Laughing Gull in it’s breeding plumage…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 200-400mm f4 VR, TC-20E III...400 ISO f8 @ 1/1000

 

A Royal Tern’s bill turns vivid orange during during breeding season as part of it’s attraction to a mate.  Their jut-black mask covers the eye so capturing a catchlight is essential to bringing the eye to life.  Bathing behavoir is great for capturing some incredible wing flaps.  A quick conversion to B&W and then painting the bill back in emphasizes the breeding colors…

Nikon D4, AF-S 200-400mm f4 VR, TC-20E III...800 ISO f8 @ 1/500

 

When the Royal tern is finished bathing it does a wing-flap/takeoff all in one motion so you have to be ready to pan with it to capture the action…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 200-400mm f4 VR, TC-20E III...800 ISO f8 @ 1/250

 

With their morning rituals completed, the Royal tern then turns it’s attention to finding a mate.  The male goes fishing and returns with a small fish in it’s bill…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 200-400mm f4 VR, TC-20E III...400 ISO f8 @ 1/2000

 

He does a “fly by” along the beach in search of a likely candidate for a mate…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 200-400mm f4 VR, TC-20E III...400 ISO f8 @ 1/1500

 

He will then strut around in front of his hearts desire showing off what a great provider he will be…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 200-400mm f4 VR, TC-20E III...400 ISO f8 @ 1/2000

 

If she accepts his fish, they will mate…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 200-400mm f4 VR, TC-20E III...400 ISO f8 @ 1/1500

 

I just love springtime in Florida and Fort DeSoto in particular with all the activity.  It’s a great spot to capture behavior, action, portraits, and more.  The D4 performed beautifully and even nailed some shots where I had to move so quickly I wasn’t even sure I had the bird in the viewfinder (well, that’s a slight stretch) when I began clicking as the Reddish Egret made an appearance amid all the other action…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 200-400mm f4 VR, TC-20E III...200 ISO f8 @ 1/750

 

The white morph Reddish Egret put in a brief appearance and my favorite image of it was when it raised it’s wing and stretched it’s head underneath to preen…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 200-400mm f4 VR, TC-20E III...400 ISO f8 @ 1/350

 

A Black-bellied Plover (in the process of turning to it’s breeding plumage) passed by…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 200-400mm f4 VR, TC-20E III...800 ISO f8 @ 1/750

 

As you can see from my exposure data, my ISO ranged from 200-800.  I tried to keep my shutter speed high to capture the action of a specific bird as well as allowing for the changing light as the sun played hide-and-seek amongst the clouds.  As the light increased, my ISO decreased but still allowed for a fast shutter speed.  A preening Willet doesn’t need a super fast shutter speed…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 200-400mm f4 VR, TC-20E III...200 ISO f8 @ 1/750

 

But, if it does a wing flap or takes flight, that fast shutter speed will allow me to stop the action…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 200-400mm f4 VR, TC-20E III...200 ISO f8 @ 1/1000

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 200-400mm f4 VR, TC-20E III...200 ISO f8 @ 1/1000

 

And, last, but certainly not least, the Long-billed Curlew did put in it’s daily appearance and foraged along the shore for quite awhile digging in the sand with jack-hammer motion for crabs and totally unconcerned at our presence…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 200-400mm f4 VR, TC-20E III...800 ISO f8 @ 1/750

 

We would watch it’s behavior and then move past it, set up and wait for it to approach us.  It kept moving back and forth within an area and we simply worked it as it paused to dig in front of us before passing on only to return from the opposite direction shortly after…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 200-400mm f4 VR, TC-20E III...800 ISO f8 @ 1/750

 

It did pause once and cock it’s head at us as if to say, “Are you lookin’ at me?”…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 200-400mm f4 VR, TC-20E III...800 ISO f8 @ 1/750

 

All in all it was a fantastic morning at Fort DeSoto.  The birds and light were cooperative and the D4 performed flawlessly.  If only I could say that about myself.  🙂

Many of you will notice that I was using the 200-400mm with the 2x for all these images.  I wanted to test out the D4 focus with the 2X on an f4 lens, I wanted the versatility of the zoom and I knew that I would be able to get close enough in most instances for this lens plus, it will make a great flight lens (without the TC) due to it’s light weight.  We’re off to the Everglades.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nikon D4 Goes To Disney World

I received my D4 just days before my southwest adventure and had no time to try it out before heading off to red rock country but, I wasn’t concerned as I would have plenty of time to familiarize myself with the new placement of buttons and dials while photographing landscapes for two weeks.  I used my D4 just like I would any other camera while in the southwest and was very pleased with the performance and even more so with the beautiful files it produced both in daylight and after dark when I had to use either a log exposure or a high ISO to make an image.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and my husband, Frank, and I are wandering around Florida for a couple of weeks and I have my D4 in hand once again.  We started off at Disney World where we arrived just in time to make it to the Magic Kingdom for their “Wishes” fireworks show.  I thought it would be a great test of the camera with low light, long exposure situations…

Nikon D4, AF-S 28-300mm 3.5-5.6 VR...100 ISO f11 @ 4.3 sec

 

The next morning found us at Animal Kingdom where I had a chance to test the performance of the D4 unexpectedly when the tigers had a quick little altercation.  I went from slow mode to action in a heartbeat and the D4  easily nailed the action…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 28-300mm 3.5-5.6 VR...400 ISO f5.6 @ 1/1000

 

Evening found us at Epcot for their “Illuminations” fireworks show where once again I was working the D4 in low light and long exposures and it performed like a champ with very low noise…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 28-300mm 3.5-5.6 VR...100 ISO f11 @ 2.4 sec

 

The annual Flower Festival is going on at Epcot and there were topiaries of all the characters throughout the park.  Mickey sits at the front gate to both welcome guests as well as wish the same guest farewell.  With the spot lights on Mickey and Planet Earth illuminated in the background, I put the D4 to the test and with a little minus exposure compensation to taste ended up with a very nice image that once again has very low noise from long exposure…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 28-300mm 3.5-5.6 VR...200 ISO f5.6 @ 1 sec

 

My D4 went with me to each and every Disney theme park and was put to the test over and over in low light, fast action, and fun “snapshot” situations throughout each day.  I thought it would be a great way to become even more familiar with the camera and it’s performance before getting down to serious business later in the week.  Some additional highlights are an old cab from the fifties at Planet Hollywood that I put my creative juices to work on in the digital darkroom using NIK Silver Efex Pro 2…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 28-300mm 3.5-5.6 VR...100 ISO f9.5 @ 1/180

 

A step into the Twilight Zone found us at the Tower of Terror and really low light.  I cranked the ISO up to 12, 500 and it was still dark.  I wasn’t even sure the images were sharp in the low light but, the camera seemed to lock on and when I reviewed the images on my computer I was once again happy with the results.  There is no question that the D4 has exceptional low noise capabilities as well as improved focus in low light.  The lens hardly hunted at all in even the darkest situations…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 28-300mm 3.5-5.6 VR...12,800 f6.7 @ 1/8

 

Ride after ride, hour after hour, I kept throwing difficult situations at the D4, situations that I suspect will be rare in my normal photography but a good pre-test to know just how far I was going to be able to push my new camera and it attacked each situation and gave me excellent results each time.  A little exposure compensation here a quick pass of Dfine there to remove what little noise there was and most images were finished!  The image below is right out of the camera, processed in Nikon Capture NX2 as shot, saved as a tiff and Dfine run once.  Finished…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 28-300mm 3.5-5.6 VR...9000 ISO f4.8 @ 1/60

 

There’s nothing like a “crash…and burn” to put the camera to the test.  With the dark pavement, the bright fire and the need for speed to stop the action of the motorcycle rider sliding across the pavement, I needed the meter to nail the exposure, the focus to keep up with the rider and the camera to shoot fast enough to capture the action and it certainly did all that…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 28-300mm 3.5-5.6 VR...200 ISO f5.6 @ 1/350

 

I finished up with a few colorful flower images before declaring “I am now ready for the birds!”…

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 28-300mm 3.5-5.6 VR...200 ISO f16 @ 1/90

 

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 28-300mm 3.5-5.6 VR...200 ISO f5.6 @ 1/180

 

I have become very comfortable with the buttons and dials on the D4 and have been pleased with each and every shoot I have had so far.  Now, it’s time to put it to the test with some subjects that I bought it for.  Next Stop Fort DeSoto.  Stay tuned.