Lightroom 5 Beta

Lightroom 5 beta has made it’s debut last month. This newest version has several interesting upgrades to the develop module. First is the ability to work on images while they are offline. In the past if you disconnected a hard drive the images would come up in the catalog with ? Marks indicating they were offline. Now you can generate a lower resolution DNG file either during download or after the images are imported. Then while you are traveling you can continue editing them. Once you reconnect to the originals everything sync’s up.

Another improvement is to the clone/healing brush. Now instead of just discrete circular corrections you can drag across the defect like you can in Photoshop. It still doesn’t offer the precision of Photoshop but it’s a big improvement over the LR4’s tool.

Lightroom 5 introduces the Radial Tool. This offers the same slider corrections available under the brush tool but offers a more global way to make selections and you have the option to invert the selection.

Finally, there is a new perspective correction tool. Under the lens correction tab is the Upright tool. It will automatically correct an image for vertical and horizontal distortion often found in architectural photos. You can get these results by tinkering with the manual controls but this is pretty quick and impressive for a smart filter.

There are a number of other smaller upgrades, but none are set in stone yet. DPReview gives a good overview of the new upgrades at:

I look forward to the new upgrade and plan to get it once it’s out. These new options are certainly an improvement.



Photography Tips for Birders Part 1 Equipment

Carolina Wren

I am giving a talk to the Monticello Bird Club next week and thought I would share the information in my talk over a few blog posts. Many birders would like to capture images of the birds they see. They are out weekly, sometimes daily looking for birds, so the opportunity to capture shots is great. They also head out early in the morning, this is a great time for good light, if it isn’t a cloudy or rainy day!

Maybe you want to capture images for ID or maybe you want to get some good shots to print or use in presentations. Whatever the reason, I hope this series will help you get better bird images.


Many birders already have scopes, so one option is to buy a camera and attach it to the scope. Essentially the scope acts as the lens and gives you good magnification. You can even stack the camera lens/zoom on top of the scope to get even more magnification! The better the quality of your scope the better quality images you can get.

There are 2 main types of cameras, point and shoot or DSLR. Point and shoot (P&S) cameras are smaller and cheaper. There are a number on the market compatible with a scope. Make sure you use a P&S with a short zoom of 3-4x, the longer zooms will create problems with vignetting (black corners in the view/image). You use stepping rings to attach the camera to the scope along with a digital camera adapter. You will need to do some research to find what works best for you and the scope you have.

DSLR cameras are larger and more expensive. You can get a good entry level camera for $500-800, so it’s not astronomical. There are obviously much more expensive cameras available as well, it all depends on what you want to do with the camera outside of birding. The advantage of a DSLR camera is much better quality of image, especially at higher ISO settings (I will expand on this in Part 2). They also focus faster and give you more control over settings.

You can attach the DSLR body directly to the scope using a T2 mount and digital camera adapter or attach it to a lens using stepping rings and a digital camera adapter. The lens must have threads for the stepping ring to attach to.

There is a lot of information on the internet regarding digiscoping, just google the name. A few websites I found helpful were:  – a British bird enthusiast – good basic info but written in 2006 so recommendations are outdated. – from the guy who started digiscoping, has a list of scope/camera combos


There are Binoculars with a camera built in. This makes for a portable compact package and seems like the best option for ID photos. There is not a lot of control and image quality is probably on par with a P&S camera. I haven’t tried this personally, so you’ll need to read reviews to see if this is for you.   Bushnell is one brand reviewed in Bird Watchers Digest :


Immature Black Skimmer

The final equipment option is a DSLR camera with traditional lens. This will most likely be the most expensive route, but will give you the higher quality images and more control. However, you will not get the reach/magnification you can get from a scope.

To photograph birds you need at least a 400mm lens.  I use this when I travel as it is smaller than my big lens. Bigger lenses give you more reach, but cost more; 500mm, 600mm, 300-800 and 1200mm are available sizes. You can also use teleconverters of 1.4x and 2x for more reach at a cheaper price, but they only work on certain lenses. A 1.4x on a 400mm = a reach of 560mm while a 2x on a 400mm -= a reach of 800mm. There is some loss of image quality, especially with the 2x. Make sure to read reviews prior to purchase.

When not flying for travel, I use a Sigma 300-800mm lens on a Gitzo tripod with Cobra head on my Canon 1DMark III. This setup runs around $13K, so it’s not cheap, but I’m a photographer first and birder second.

In part 2 we’ll look at some camera settings to use to get good images.

A Flash for Christmas

Students often ask me what accessories they should get for their camera. There are so many things to choose from and your budget is the limit. So I ask you, do you love to photograph friends and family? Do you do a lot of shooting indoors? If so I highly recommend an off camera flash. One that sits in the hot shoe on top of the camera. The hot shoe is present on all SLR type cameras and some Point and Shoots. The skinny little ‘fit in your pocket’ point and shoots do not have them.



So what will an off camera flash do for you? It will greatly improve the quality of the flash light on your subjects. The on camera flash is poorly placed for good photography. It is right over the lens and results in flat frontal light and red eye. When you create a portrait, it is preferable to have the light coming from an angle to create soft contouring shadows on the subjects face. Straight on light flattens out the subject and reduces depth in the final image.

Direct Flash, harsh deer in the headlights look
Flash bounced off wall for softer side lighting with contouring shadows












Red eye is caused by light reflecting off the back of our eyes. Pets have yellow and green eyes, except Siamese cats that also have red eyes, (this is your useless fun fact from the veterinarian side of me). So using a flash directly in someone’s face usually results in red eye. Yes, you can try to correct this on the computer later, but turning red eyes of doom into black eyes of doom often isn’t any better.An off camera flash can help eliminate this.

Red or Green Eye from Direct Flash


Off camera flash units have a head that swivels. You can mount it to the top of the camera and then point it at a white wall or ceiling to bounce the light (beware of the color of the wall or ceiling as this is the color you will reflect if you bounce light). This creates a diffused soft light and changes the direction to give more pleasing results than the direct on flash.

If you are outdoors you will have to point the flash at the subject since there is nothing to bounce off of. However, many of the newer flash units have a wireless feature that communicates with the camera, so you can take it off the camera and hold it at a different angle than the camera. This allows you to move the angle of the light around your subject to get the best effect on the face and eliminate red eye. This requires you to use a tripod to hold the camera or have an assistant to hold/position the flash if you are hand holding the camera. You can use this technique indoors as well.

The other option is to use a diffuser over the flash to soften and diffuse the light so it is not so harsh. I highly recommend the diffusers made by Gary Fong. They work great, are collapsible and affordable. They create a warm diffuse light on the subject. I’ve used one for years! I use it all the time, whether I am bouncing the light or using it directly on the subject.


Which flash to get? Make sure to get one that is compatible with your camera. I suggest the same brand as your camera and make sure it has a movable head to point up or sideways. The wireless feature is nice but you can also get a cord to use if off of the hot shoe. Regardless your use of the flash will improve greatly by using an off camera unit and bouncing the light with a Fong diffuser. If you want to move your flash/portrait photography forward this is a great start and there is lots of room to grow!

Flash Bounced off Ceiling - soft light, no red eye
Flash Bounced off ceiling, soft light

Canon Camera Errors

I have owned Canon cameras since I began shooting in the 90’s. I still have my old film camera and occasionally break it out, but mostly I use my digital versions. I have owned the 10D, 20D, 1D Mark III, Mark IV and 5D Mark II. They have all been great cameras but as with all equipment they eventually start to break down.

I remember my first encounter with the dreaded error 99. What did this mean? Not much, just that something was wrong. Canon equates it to the check engine light on your car. The camera detected some issue but there’s no way of knowing where the problem lay. You usually turned the camera off, cleaned the battery off or changed it out, changed out the media card and wiped off the contacts between the body and lens. FYI Don’t use an eraser to clean these connections! They may ruin the coating and cause you real problems.

Now Canon has a variety of error codes. Just this past week I got the Error 20 code on my 5D Mark II. So what does that mean? I could hear the shutter sticking or lagging. Canon says it’s an unspecified mechanical error. Well I already got that. The fun part is you try all of things you did with error 99. Change out the battery, reformat the memory card, wipe the connections and see what happens. After my shoot with frequent error 20 displays I changed out the battery and now it is working fine again. For the moment anyway. I can’t imagine how the battery would affect the shutter unless there is a power fluctuation. Anyway we’ll see what happens.

So the bottom line when you get an error? Change out the battery, reformat the media card and wipe down all connections with a soft cloth, no eraser! Pray some and see what happens. The camera may work fine for a while and then have a recurrence or you may be lucky and it’s all better or you may end up sending it back to Canon to be repaired. Pretty vague I know, but here is a link to Canon’s own article on the error codes:

Good Luck!

Reenactments: Unique Opportunities for Images

I love photographing most any subject, but reenactments give us a unique opportunity to photograph days gone by. I recently spent 2 weeks at a reenactment in PA. My friends and I have an encampment of white tents and colorful banners. We step back in time to the Middle Ages of Europe.








Look for portraits of interesting individuals with unique clothing.





















Fighting or ceremonies make for nice imagery. Here is a shot from a rapier bout.








Also a shot from Court with the current King and Queen, yes there is even royalty!









It’s a different look from the everyday 21st century. Enjoy capturing a bit of yesteryear!









This type of event is only accessible to members of the group however there are many public options out there. The Maryland Renaissance Faire is coming up this fall. Also there are tons of Civil War battles such as Gettysburg. Don’t forget about airshows and World War II reenactments as well. Enjoy shooting!

Discovery and Neighborhoods

There’s nothing like a brisk walk in the cool Pacific NW air after a long flight from the East Coast. While walking around my sisters neighborhood on Fox Island, I came upon the site for a new development. It’s all gated and fancy with manicured plantings and a road. No homes yet, but here comes the Discovery part, beautiful overgrown fields filled with wildflowers!

I assume this is an old farm site that has gone wild. The chaos as nature tries to reclaim what was hers is lovely to witness. It makes me sad to see the plot numbers evenly spaced out. I wish more communities could try to save a few of these places for natural areas. I know it takes money, but how lovely to have a place for all to share and enjoy a little piece of nature?

Anyway, I have enjoyed this moment in time and will continue to enjoy it during my visit. I know it is fleeting, but have taken a few shots with my Panasonic Lumix to document this period in time and remind me of the joy of discovery in a new place.




















Bill Allard Workshop

I was fortunate to experience a workshop taught by William Albert Allard, a National Geographic legend of documentary photography. Since documentary photography has never been my strong point I learned a lot and got a glimpse of how Allard works with his subjects.

The purpose of the workshop was to document a local farm, In Partnership with the Land was the official title. While a weekend barely scratches the surface of true documentary photography, Allard often spends months to years documenting his subjects, it was a start and gave me a look into how to achieve such a project.

It was also a pleasure to meet several local photographers and meet up with some past students. Nature/wildlife photography is a lonely business and it was nice to work with others for the weekend. Thanks to everyone who attended!

Below are a few of my images from the weekend. A link for more is here:























Camera Setting Basics

This is the first of several posts that will address how to control the basic settings on your SLR camera. An SLR is the big camera that you can change lenses on. SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex as there is only one lens. There are also Twin lens reflex cameras out there that use 2 lenses one on top of the other, these are pretty rare.

The primary settings for your camera are – shutter speed, aperture, ISO and exposure. You have to have a combination of these in order to get an image that comes out looking the way you want. I will briefly outline these settings here then subsequent posts will address each in more detail.

Other settings and variables such as light, white balance and flash will be addressed later.

Shutter speed is expressed in seconds and controls how long the shutter is open to allow light to reach the sensor or in the old days, the film. Shutter speed is one variable that controls whether the image will be sharp or not. A 1/500 second shutter speed is fine for the sitting bird but is too slow for the flying bird which results in a blurry bird.

Tufted Titmouse 1/500 second still
Tufted Titmouse 1/500 second in motion


Aperture is expressed as f stops and controls the depth of focus. When you focus on a subject, f stop is one variable that controls what is sharp or blurry in the image. Below I focused on the middle spike of the fence, at f 2.8 only the one spike is sharp, but at f 32 all of the spikes are sharp.

Only center spike is sharp at F 2.8
All spikes sharp at F 32










ISO is how sensitive the sensor or in ages past, film, is to light. A low ISO needs a lot of ambient light while a high ISO can render an image in low lighting at the cost of increased grain or noise in the image.

ISO 200 low grain/noise
ISO 12800 low light high grain/noise


Finally, exposure puts all of the above together. Exposure is the result of combining a shutter speed, aperture and ISO setting under ambient light to give you an image that is not too dark or too light, but looks just right. This is where the art of photography comes in. Balancing the settings to get the image you want.

Exposure too dark
Exposure too light
Exposure just right


Next time we’ll look at shutter speed in more detail.



My Morning with the Merganser’s

Hooded Merganser Pair
Hooded Merganser Pair
I crawl out of bed long before sunrise, dress, eat and drive to a pond in Crozet, VA. Grabbing 25 pounds of gear I trek across a lumpy wet grass field to my blind.  A quick check with my headlamp confirms no creepy critter has taken up residence so I move in for the morning. I set up my tripod, lens and attach camera; now the waiting begins. I am hunting – hunting ducks or whatever else will pose for me near my blind.
Bathing drake Hooded Merganser

Why go through the trouble?   The experience is sooo worth it! It starts with an overwhelming chorus of frogs and toads, a trilling to lift your heart. Then there’s the red wing blackbirds flitting about and screeching their special song. Suddenly they appear, the Hooded Merganser pair, a drake and hen. They winter here in Virginia, you just never think to find them in Central Virginia.

Hooded merganser hen stretching wings
Stretching Wings
Hooded Merganser Hen
It’s still too dark to get any good images, but I shoot a couple anyway, I’ll delete them later. Finally it starts to lighten and they have moved off. This is why I shot a couple earlier you never know how long they’ll stay around and I have to have at least one image! As the sun starts to come up, they come back, thank goodness. They are swimming around looking for breakfast. A tasty toad or frog. Smackdown wrestling takes place as the hen twists, dunks and slams the frog around before gulping it down whole.  Makes my stomach squirm just thinking about it!


Wrestling Frog

Next they bathe, the joy of water and rearing up to stretch their wings and realign those pesky feathers. Time for preening, a nap, more preening, a drink of water, more preening then, some sweet lovin’, however being pinned under the water doesn’t sound great to me, but it’s a bird thing. More bathing and preening, then off to find more frogs.

So I spent the last 2 mornings with the Merganser’s. It’s a ducks life!

Drake Hooded Merganser