Category Archives: Wildlife

Elegant Trogons of Arizona

My first good view of the male Trogon.

My first good view of the male Trogon.

While in Arizona for the Tucson Audubon Bird and Wildlife Fest, a barely got out to shoot or view any birds. However, Sunday evening after closing down the vendor area and packing up, I drove to Madera Canyon to seek the Elegant Trogons that still had young in their nest.

Upon arrival at the location, a met a couple who had attended the festival and they were patiently awaiting the birds’ return. As I set up my tripod, the male flew in, called, then flew back out of sight.

The second Elegant Trogon fledgling to leave the nest.

The second Elegant Trogon fledgling to leave the nest.

Suddenly one of the juveniles flew from the nest, followed by the other. They perched for a few moments outside the nest experiencing the surprise of their first free flight! After a few quick photos of the young birds, they followed the voice of dad and disappeared.

I waited patiently after the other photographers left. The light was waining and I was ready to walk away when I heard the male quietly calling a short distance up the trail. I followed the sound and there he was — the remaining light offering a faint rim around his shape.

As the light waned I was rewarded...

As the light waned I was rewarded…

After a bit, he flew down the trail and I followed, found an opening in the trees and waited. I was rewarded for my patience when he flew in right in front of me for a few brief seconds before disappearing high into the trees as the final rays of light dissipated.

—Kevin Loughlin
http://wildsidenaturetours.com

REVIEW: Nikon 1 AW1

Nikon1 AW1

The Nikon 1 AW1 wearing its waterproof 11-27.5mm zoom lens.

 

Back in the mid-1980’s, after getting SCUBA certified right out of college, I purchased a Nikon Nikonos system with strobe set-up. I carried a Nikons IV and later a Nikons V body with their 35mm and 80mm lenses. I could not afford to buy any added equipment beyond that back then.

Of course, there were major limitations with the Nikonos systems… mainly we could only shoot 36 images before having to surface and re-load as they were film cameras. We did not have zoom lenses that were waterproof. There was no motor drive… single shot, lever advance only.

I don’t do a lot of underwater photography anymore… mainly when I am on one of our tours, like the Galapagos Islands where we do a fair amount of snorkeling. So to save money, I have been using compact digitals in waterproof housings (very bulky) and later compact, waterproof models like the Olympus Touch and Panasonic Lumix waterproof models.

One major issue with the pocket-sized models was not having the RAW image format available, so when I saw the new Nikon 1 series announce the waterproof mirrorless AW1, I had to check it out!

When it arrived on my doorstep, I quickly opened the box and looked over the parts and yes, even read how to properly assemble the camera using the included o-ring grease. Once I knew exactly how to assemble the lens to the body properly for underwater use, it was done and the lens not removed. (This is important to know for what happened during use in the Galapagos.)

One of my clients joining me in the Galapagos purchased an AW1 for this trip as well, which made for an interesting comparison of experiences. We had the same lens as well… the Nikon 11-27.5 waterproof zoom. Nikon has a waterproof 10mm lens, too, but I wanted the versatility of the zoom for multiple purposes.

 

Wildside tour participant snorkeling at Santiago.

Wildside tour participant snorkeling at Santiago.

 

Our first snorkel adventure on this trip would be on the first morning while at Genovesa Island. This island, far to the northeast of the other islands, has the warmest water in the Galapagos. Not necessarily warm, but warmer than other islands due to the Panamic Current coming from the northeast.

We walked into the water from the beach, with some trepidation in the chilly surf. I finally went under and swam along the rocks where more fish were hanging out. Within seconds, my lens had fogged up behind the protective front element of the zoom. Everything was a misty blur. How disappointing! I continued to swim and enjoy the wildlife with my clients, checking the lens from time to time. Eventually, after about 10 minutes, the fog dissipated and I was able to take some photos and movies.

 

Blue-striped Grunts

Blue-striped Grunts

Galapagos Sea Lions are quite playful at times. This image was taken by our local guide, Pedro, using my Nikon 1 AW1.

Galapagos Sea Lions are quite playful at times. This image was taken by our local guide, Pedro, using my Nikon 1 AW1.

This first snorkel allowed me to play with settings and learn some functions of the camera to determine the ease of use while underwater. I was impressed. The controls were easy to understand and navigate on the large screen… as long as I was in the right light. When the sun peeked through the clouds, the screen became unusable.

My next snorkel would be the following morning at one of my favorite locations, Leon Dormido (Sleeping Lion), aka Kicker Rock, of the coast of San Cristobal Island. This huge volcanic remnant rises high above the ocean surface and offers beautiful snorkeling opportunities full of Sea Lions, Pacific Green Turtles, Spotted Eagle Rays, White-tipped Reef Sharks and many colorful fish and sea stars.

As the Humboldt Current (from Antarctica) flows around San Cristobal, the water is a bit cooler. So when I jumped in with the Nikon 1 AW1, it immediately fogged up, useless for about 10 minutes again. Now remember, I mounted the lens onto the body immediately after opening the box, and never took it off. There should be no moisture inside. My client, who had dome the same, had no issues with fogging to this point, so it was only my camera.

Once the fogging went away, I played with the camera controls again and found settings to adjust my screen and easily, even while underwater, brightened my view so I could more easily see my subjects. This made a huge difference in my composition and I now had fun photographing turtles and fish around Leon Dormido.

My standard default for nature photography is to use aperture priority for my exposure (with manual being a close second in usage). I set the AW1 to aperture priority and found it very easy to raise and lower the f-stop as desired for more depth or changing shutter speed. I still had full, easy use of the exposure compensation (+/-) as well.

I also found that underwater I liked using the 5-shot burst mode as my default as currents, wave action and subject movements made it difficult to compose. Using a burst of five shots I was able to get at least one shot in five composed well with each burst.

Over the next few days, I tried to reduce the moisture in the camera and lens by placing them in a zip-lock bag of rice (with caps on of course). This helped and the fogging issue was lessened. Another trick was to tie the camera to a rope and drop it overboard for 10-15 minutes before we went snorkeling. The combo worked great and I was able to maximize my photo taking while snorkeling.

My client still had no issues with fogging, until the very last snorkeling opportunity. Another favorite location at Santiago Island where we often get to swim with Green Turtles and Galapagos Penguins! At this snorkel, his Nikon 1 AW1 fogged up after being in the water for about 15 minutes… about the time the first penguin showed up!

 

This was a very cooperative Porcupine Boxfish.

This was a very cooperative Porcupine Boxfish.

This Galapagos Penguin swan through, around and between our legs as it caught and ate sardines!

This Galapagos Penguin swan through, around and between our legs as it caught and ate sardines!

 

During this snorkel I had fantastic opportunities with the Galapagos Penguin, including the image above. The camera’s focus speed was amazing when using the 5-shot burst, with the image above being the last of five as the penguin swam toward me!

Image quality was very good, though noise became an issue above 800 ISO and there were times I needed 1600 ISO in order to get a higher shutter speed when snorkeling on cloudy days. However, the images are sharp with good color quality, and since I was able to shoot in RAW (Nikon NEF) I had much more control in post processing to get the image I had imagined.

My overall impression? I love the Nikon 1 AW1 for my purposes… a bunch of snorkel trips during a tour, like the Galapagos Islands. For SCUBA it won’t be a popular as its maximum depth is only 49 feet (15 meters). The controls are easy to use, once you have practiced with them. Get used to the settings and buttons you use most and you will probably enjoy using the Nikon 1 AW1 as much as I do.

 

Article by Kevin Loughlin

Birder? Photographer? Birdographer!

Three-toed Woodpecker

Three-toed Woodpecker photographed by Kevin Loughlin during our Grand Tetons Spring Workshop

Many birders have become photographers… and vice versa… What about you?

Three-toed WoodpeckerBack in the old days of film photography, the line between birders and photographers was very clear. Most birders did not want to be bothered with carrying the extra equipment and photographers didn’t bother with binoculars.

This still holds true to a point, however, the line is much more blurred these days, especially when you take into account the innumerable digiscoping fans. In fact, the digiscoping ‘craze’ of 2005, in my opinion, introduced photography to many birders.

Mainly as a way to ‘prove’ their sightings, birders got hooked on digiscoping and it is even more popular today with scope manufacturers making accessories to help digiscopers get better images.

Digiscoping quickly led many birders to upgrade their compact cameras to DSLR cameras in order to have a lot more flexibility and higher quality. AFter all, trying to keep a high magnification scope on a fidgety warbler or a hawk in flight is extremely difficult! Once DSLRs, with their interchangeable lenses and high-speed drives hit the market, the quest higher quality photography gained even more popularity.

Fast forward to 2014 and we see birding festivals offering nearly as many photo workshops as birding field trips. Many birders have become photographers, but it is surprising how many photographers have gotten hooked on birds as their favorite wildlife to capture in pixels. Workshops to learn how to better capture hawks in flight or hummingbirds attract folks who may not be able to identify what they are shooting, but they are having a great time getting their images. With many, this has led them to wanting to know more about their subjects and eventually wanting to photograph different species in different locations… a photographic life list if you will, rather than just a written list. A birdographer is born!

I have to admit… I kinda started out this way. I enjoyed drawing birds as a kid in the 1960’s, and after getting my first camera at age six, birds were one of my favorite subjects. It wasn’t long before I was leafing through my mother’s Peterson Guide to figure out the birds I was photographing and eventually I was looking up all the birds I was seeing whether photographed or not! I remember getting my life American Woodcock while skateboarding around Promised Land Lake in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Yes, I was carrying my camera, with my brand new (pre-owned) 300mm Accura lens on my Minolta SR-T 202. I was 15, so I did not yet have a driver’s license–skateboarding and bicycling were my only mode of personal, wheeled transportation to get to my favorite photo locations.

But I digress. Back in the early days of Wildside, I was offering photo instruction on all of our birding trips, plus offering photo workshops and tours. Of course, using film, participant did not know how well they did until a few days after getting home. Now we have instant gratification as well as instant learning tools, which can make a photo workshop even more fun and much more productive than they once were. Thanks to these new technologies, Wildside has added a lot more photo workshop opportunities… many of which are geared toward birds (without ignoring other wildlife, too).

Whether a birder with a camera or a photographer that likes birds… all birdographers will enjoy a number of our upcoming workshops!

–Kevin Loughlin

98% Patience for Great Nature Photos

Snow Geese 'blast off' at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. Patience is key as the wait can be hours before they take off!

Snow Geese ‘blast off’ at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. Patience is key as the wait can be hours before they take off!

Snow Geese pre-blast-off

Snow Geese still coming in… about an hour before the ‘blast off’ at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico.

Anyone who has joined me on one of my nature photography workshops or has read my book knows this formula… 98% patience, 1% luck ands 1% skill is required to be successful at nature photography.

Waiting for hours in a blind for wildlife to appear or for the light to be ‘just right’ can tax even the most patient soul! It is very easy to get distracted while waiting, especially if the weather is less than desirable! Keeping your task at hand in focus, however, is required to take advantage of the 1% luck, when your subject appears or the light has peaked. Then you can use your 1% skill to get the shot!

Long-billed Hermits typical return to the same flower about every 40 minutes.

Long-billed Hermits typical return to the same flower about every 40 minutes.

The waiting can be minimized in some cases by ‘knowing’ your subject. Understanding the natural history of the wildlife you are photographing is key to creating opportunities and getting the best images. Some hummingbirds, for example, are known as ‘trapliners’ because they feed on a circuit of flowers rather than staking out a territory. In other words, they return to the same flowers time and again, on a schedule. Depending on the species, the time will vary from 10 minutes to as much as 40 minutes. Observing your subject until you  know the timing will help keep you alert for when the action will begin.

Many big (and small) mammals have circuits as well and create ‘game trails’ that can be staked out for placement of blinds. Look for woodpeckers, bluebirds and other cavity nesting birds in spring as they fly back and forth to their nest to feed young. Don’t get too close to the nest as this can alert predators to it’s presence. Stay back to get a better angle, or build a platform blind a safe distance away for minimal disturbance.

 

A young Social Flycatcher in Honduras caught my eye with fluttering wings. As I waited patiently, mom came in to feed it and offered a fun composition on approach.

A young Social Flycatcher in Honduras caught my eye with fluttering wings. As I waited patiently, mom came in to feed it and offered a fun composition on approach.

Once you understand your subject and have your tools in place, the luck factor comes into play. Having your subject ‘perform’ as you had hoped, or better yet, with an unexpected behavior, is up to luck. Enjoying a woodpecker flying into and out of its nest hole may get monotonous… but be ready for when the male and female connect for that brief moment before they change places, or for a chick’s head to appear in the opening before mom returns with a meal. It’s those extra opportunities outside the repeated behavior that you hope to capture. Something ‘different’ from what others have seen and captured!

This is where the 1% skill comes into play… understanding your camera’s controls to be sure you have all the proper settings for the light and action when the ‘unique behavior’ happens is your key to success! Practice, practice, practice! Getting outside and playing with the settings to see how everything works in different levels of light and speed of action will help prepare you for when the moment presents itself and you have a split second to react!

— Kevin

Shooting in Extremes

Nature is always going to throw you a curve ball from time to time. For me last week, this curve ball took the shape of a massive snowstorm that barreled across the western mountains of Wyoming dumping loads of powder and dipping temperatures into the single digits. Add to this the howling winds that came rushing down out of the Wind River Mountains, and you have a recipe for negative 20 degree wind chill factors that feels more like burning that freezing.

These are the conditions that send many people packing. Who in the right mind would actually want to venture out into this sort of stuff before dawn – battling arctic temperatures, icy roads, and deep snow drifts? Though some may argue my sanity some times, I’m here to tell you that shooting on the edge of extreme weather like this often gives you the most dramatic opportunities to photograph.

When it comes to nature photography, weather equates to drama – simple as that. Be it snow, clouds, or the insane sort of light that only comes at the edge of a major storm, these are the situations that often creates the most memorable photographs.

These past couple of weeks I have been in the middle of filming two new episodes of the PBS series Wild Photo Adventures. One of these shows was on the Wind River Basin of Wyoming. Big horn sheep, monster mule deer, the kaleidoscopic colors of the Wyoming badlands, and Shoshone petroglyphs all featured prominently in our “to do list.” All of which we knew would make for far more interesting subjects and situations with the incoming forecast from the National Weather Service of this November snowstorm. 

First and foremost we knew the heavy snows would push wildlife down out of the steeper and often inaccessible high country of the Wind River Range down to levels reachable without a helicopter or snowmobile. Second, the snow would really add a dramatic touch to any wildlife image or landscape that I had in store for the show. Third, I knew that this snow was simply going to make the Triassic red sandstone and clays of the badlands simply scream at dawn!

The storm and cold did not disappoint. Yes, it was bone chilling (thank God for coffee!). Yes it was windy – so much so that we had a production camera take sail in the wind and explode upon impact with the ground. But, the images that we were able to create because of these extremes were absolutely incredible and allowed us to move beyond the cliché into the realms of something unique.

Some key things to remember when photographing in these sort of conditions. . .

  1. Bring extra batteries! The cold can and will devour batteries with a quickness. Many a photographer has found themselves shut out of a great day of shooting because they didn’t bring spare batteries for their camera.
  2. Tripod placement. Shoot with a tripod. Your hands will get cold. You will get fatigued quickly. Just remember that when the wind is howling you need to keep a hand on that tripod and camera when set up (as one of the camera men from the show learned the hard way). Also, ice and snow make things slippery, and snow can conceal hidden obstacles and holes. So make sure you have a solid footing with your tripod.
  3. Polarizing Filter. Snow creates a lot of glare once the sun begins to shine down. A circular polarizing filter is an absolutely critical piece of equipment for controlling light.
  4. Exposure. Remember that your cameras light meter will give you an exposure that will render the snow somewhat gray in color. You will need to over expose by anywhere from 2/3 of a stop to 1.3 stops. This of course can be done either by shooting manually, or by using your exposure compensation (the +/- button).
  5. Good gloves. Your hands will suffer in these conditions. I have yet to find “the perfect” glove for shooting in the cold. Every pair I have is a compromise in some way. I prefer gloves with cut out fingers, but with a mitten hood that can be folded over your fingers when not shooting. Occasional I will wear thin fleece like glove liners along with these gloves for extra added warmth. When filming and photographing for the show, one of the crew members left their gloves back in the truck thinking he would only be exposed for a couple of minutes. Those couple of minutes cost him frostbite on his hands and a lot of pain and suffering the rest of the trip.

Photographing Shorebirds in Cape May NJ

Growing up along the beaches of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I have always had a fascination with shorebirds. Maybe it’s the difficulty that most birders have in identifying these little guys. It could of course be the hilarious behavior of some species like the sanderling that scurries up and down the beach withContinue Reading