Monday, March 23, 2009

March 21st Report - San Angelo State Park

Good morning in the blind. I had hoped to get out and about this weekend to someplace other than the same old thing, but family obligations and a very sore wrist kept me from traveling very far. I'm scheduled for another appointment for the wrist sometime in the next couple of weeks so hopefully we'll get to the bottom of that one--it's eating into my photography time ;)

But since I was more or less stuck in San Angelo (though happily stuck, may I add), and the light looked to be perfect, I headed out to the park to see what I could see.

Light was outstanding. Maybe a little bright at first and certainly the quality of the light changed often during my time in the blind. But it was almost universally good and only my impatience and knowing I had other things to accomplish on Saturday kept me from staying longer. Start time of actual shooting was around 8:25 and I stayed exactly 2 hours. Body count of the images was just south of 270 images and most of them were very good. The only significant mistake that I made was that I went to ISO 400 early in the morning because the shutter speeds were getting below 1/80th. As things brightened I did not go back to drop the ISO back to 200. With the 30D this is not a huge issue--noise is minimal at ISO 400. But at 200 it is far better.

First image of the day was a male Northern Cardinal. Last image was a Red-winged Blackbird. In between was a good variety of the standard late winter/early spring birds. The Orange-crowned warbler made his appearance and the small covey of Northern Bobwhites made an appearance as well with at least 5 being in the blind area at once. Pyrrhuloxia were out in large numbers as well, probably outnumbering the Northern Cardinals which is a very unusual occurrence. House Sparrows are becoming more abundant, though White-crowned sparrows are still out in force. If last year is any indication, the White-crowns should be starting to make their way elsewhere over the next few weeks. No repeat performances though from the Greater Roadrunner or the Golden-fronted Woodpecker and I haven't seen the Ladderbacks in weeks.

Again, a good shooting experience in the blind--well worth being stuck in town again.

Red-winged Blackbird (Female), San Angelo State Park, ©2009 Jim Miller
Pyrrhuloxia (Male), San Angelo State Park, ©2009 Jim Miller

Thursday, March 19, 2009

So what do you shoot with?

I've been putting off this discussion for a long time, but I'd be a poor blogger if I continued to procrastinate on this one. After all, this is a blog about photography.

The question I get asked the most often when I'm at craft fairs or other venues where my prints are being displayed is, "What do you shoot with?"

I hate answering the question because there's a lot of folks who think that the camera is the key to everything that is important, and the dummy behind the camera doesn't really do much. So honestly, I talk down the equipment that I shoot with. I will talk about how old it is or that it's not the biggest/baddest thing on the block and that the camera itself is not that important. I'm not believed very often, even though it is true that I shoot with a relatively modest setup.

I also used to emphasize that a camera was just a box that we let light into and it really didn't matter what you were shooting because it was that dummy behind the camera that did the work. And I can't say that this is always the case.

Yes, that sounds contradictory, but it's not. Let me explain.

The advances that we've made in clarity, speed, and ISO sensitivity in the last 10 years of digital photography is incredible. So much progress has been made that it allowed for the near total extermination of film camera production. There has not been a significant pro or prosumer level camera put out in over 5 years. In the early days, the word was we'd need somewhere between 24-30 megapixel cameras to match the quality of film images. We now do with 6-8Mp that which we said was impossible--make a 11x14 print that compared favorably with a print made from Kodak Gold 100 or Fujichrome Velvia 50. Cameras have gotten that good.

But at the same time, I will tell you that you can no more give a fine set of brushes to a first year art student and expect them to make a gallery quality painting than you can give a top end camera to a novice and expect that image to be on the front of Sports Illustrated.

I will tell you that a photographer with a modest amount of experience using solid photographic technique will create a much better image with my Canon 30D than with my Canon 10D. ISO and sensor performance between the two cameras was incredible. Both will make good images and up to a certain size print (probably 8x10) it would be tough to tell the difference between the two. But look at it on a PC and the difference will be painfully obvious.

But at the same time, hundreds of thousands of dollars were made with images made from the 10D. Hundreds of thousands probably continue to be made with images made from the 30D even though it is now nearly 3 years old and the 50D has nearly double the megapixels. These cameras make awesome images.

So what do I shoot with? My camera body is a Canon 30D. I bought the battery grip after the fact and am very happy I did.

More important is what lens do I put in front of that camera. And for that you'll have to wait for the next installment. And eventually I'll even get to why it's important to the art of shooting from a blind.

March 15th Report - San Angelo State Park

Another weekend happily stuck in San Angelo. Concho Valley Photography Club has their meetings on the 2nd Saturday of the month. Another organization that I'm a member of has their meetings on the 3rd Sunday of the month. This year March just happens to combine those into one happy stew. February did as well, but due to a scheduling issue they ended up on different weekends, but I digress.

So with a weekend that would be San Angelo bound, and with some work related things keeping me relatively close to home, it was definitely going to be San Angelo State Park for my weekend visit.

I went out relatively early Sunday morning and after doing some volunteer-related items I was able to get to shooting at about 8:30am.

The light was kind of tricky to work with. It started with significant overcast, but with enough light to work at 400 ISO. As the morning progressed it became more of a hide and go seek approach where the light was good, then too bright, then okay, and then very subdued all over a very short period of time.

My biggest issues Sunday morning was a lack of warm clothing and a lack of patience. Temps inside the blind were in the low 40's and I had not adequately planned for the outing, making it very uncomfortable. This lack of warm clothing likely added to my lack of patience as I spent less than an hour and a half in the blind. But even at that I made some nice images.

Species spread was good. No wrens in the blind and only 1 of the 2 woodpecker species (Golden-fronted) made a visit in. But cardinals were running pretty good and there were numerous Pyrrhuloxia visitors. We also had visits by both a male Northern Bobwhite and a Greater Roadrunner, though the Roadrunner was far more camera shy than the Bobwhite.

Hawks continue to make the rounds at the blind, causing massive fly-offs and periods of inactivity at the blind lasting 10-15 minutes.

No physical laundry list--I left my copy in the blind.

Brown-headed Cowbird, San Angelo State Park, ©2009 Jim Miller
Northern Bobwhite, San Angelo State Park, ©2009 Jim Miller

Sunday, March 8, 2009

March 7th Report - San Angelo State Park

After getting my car out of the shop this week I had every intention to go to South Llano River State Park. But as I've quoted on this blog before (with respect and credit to Robert Burns), "The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry." I won't go into the particulars, but it involved both my normal Monday to Friday job and my photography sales side gig.

But, as luck would have it the weather was perfect for the sun-challenged blind that is the blind at San Angelo State Park. Saturday's forecast called for mostly to completely cloudy skies and the weatherman did not disappoint.

I got out to the blind at about 8:00 and after taking care of some things in the blind area under the auspices of my relationship with Friends of San Angelo State Park, I was ready to rock and roll.

First bird into the camera was a Curve-billed Thrasher. Unusual for a first bird, but I wasn't complaining. As the morning went on it was obvious that there was not one but two Curve-billed Thrashers making the rounds in the blind. Since there are minimal differences between the males and females and since Curve-billed's aren't exactly the most flock-like species, my guess is that they are a mating pair. Again, that's my guess. I'm not an ornithologist nor do I play one on TV.

No laundry list for this visit. Very narrow species spread. No titmice this time around. Cardinals and Pyrrhuloxia were around but were not in huge numbers. Lots and lots of Red-winged Blackbirds.

I made just under 200 exposures in my two hours out at the blind.

White-winged Dove, San Angelo State Park, ©2009 Jim Miller
Curve-billed Thrasher, San Angelo State Park, ©2009 Jim Miller

Monday, March 2, 2009

February 28th/March 1st Report - No birding :(

Ugly weekend I'm afraid. Weather was not going to be conducive to bird photography at the blind at San Angelo State Park--no clouds at all to help diffuse things. Saturday I was thinking that Sunday I'd go back down to South Llano River State Park and hit something other than Blind #4. And then while running errands Saturday morning the check engine light illuminated on my vehicle's dashboard. I won't repeat the word or words I was thinking (I do try to maintain a G-Rating here), but I thought I still might make the run down on Sunday and take my chances. And then after getting the car home it would not stay running. More of those words that I can't use.

Needless to say, the weekend was a bust all around. Vehicle is back with me today in working order ($240 later). Hopefully it will continue to run through the rest of the week and I'll be making weekend plans...

Sunday, March 1, 2009

February 21st Report: South Llano River State Park

Okay, back to our normally scheduled program talking about photography enjoyed from inside blinds...

Last weekend I made my way back to South Llano River State Park. The plan was to go early in the morning as I had done in the past. Unknown to myself, I had been scheduled for a mid-morning photographic shoot in San Angelo. Given that I couldn't be two places at one time and commitments come before wants & plans, I stuck to the commitment and took care of business. Fun time had...

Okay, so my previously scheduled ends around 11, other small tasks (to include taking advantage of Office Depot's 8Gb Ultra II CF for $24) kept me in town until about 1pm. On the road I go and roll into South Llano River SP around 3pm.
The last time I had been in one of the blinds after 12 o'clock high had been mid-August last year, and even then it had only been to one of the four blinds and on a day that was horribly devoid of light. With clear skies and mild temperatures, I took the opportunity to hit all four of the blinds.

The Reader's Digest version of things is that I can say without a doubt that I'm glad that I found things to take pictures of outside of the bird blinds. I went in reverse order from #4 to #1.

  • Blind #4 (Acorn) was mostly under shade when I was shooting (3:15-3:45). Light was good at the back section of the blind (primarily fence area) and the species selection was very light. Mostly sparrows with a couple of dark-eyed juncos. No cardinals and no Wild Turkeys in the blind area. Not a satisfying stop--definitely a much better morning blind.
  • Blind #3 (Juniper) was lit up reasonably well, but 420mm effective focal length was not nearly enough to get the job done. This blind was also Cardinal Central as there were probably 2 dozen making the rounds. A 500mm or a 600mm would have probably done some good in this blind, but with the slope down of this blind and no close perches, it was a waste of my time but thankfully only a few frames.
  • Blind #2 was reasonably more promising, though admittedly my patience was pretty much shot by that point and I believe mornings may be workable this time of year. Got a couple of decent shots in the blind, to include the Black-crested Titmouse pictured here.
  • Blind #1 had serious potential, but again it had been a long day and my fellow travelers by that point were tired of waiting for me so I made it an abbreviated stop. Black-throated Sparrows were the highlight here though there were also plenty of cardinals and other things. Big change with this blind was that the wire cages that "protected" the seed were removed since the last time I was there. I'm hoping this is a permanent thing because it made for more photographic opportunities.

The highlight of the day were of the mammal variety. Specifically Armadillos. Again, I'm not a native so the only armadillos I'd seen prior to this visit were very stationary and had all of the tell-tale signs of having a bad case of P215/70R14 disease. On this trip to the park I saw not one, but two possums on a half-shell. In both cases I had far too much lens to make the images I wanted to, yet at the same time the armadillos were in places where man-made structures conflicted with my attempts to make images. Encounter #1 was down the trail from Blind #3 and yielded the better images (better backgrounds). Encounter #2 was in the parking area just outside of Blind #2. Awesome time had by all.

Black-crested Titmouse, South Llano River State Park, ©2009 Jim Miller
Black-throated Sparrow, South Llano River State Park, ©2009 Jim Miller
Armadillo, South Llano River State Park, ©2009 Jim Miller