Baby Killdeer chicks in pink wildflower field - April 28, 2017

There are those days when you hit the photographic jackpot.
Today was one of those days. 

It was sunny this morning and so I decided to head over to one of our local urban birding spots to see if I could photograph any Spring migrants, like the yellow-rumped warbler or Black-headed grosbeak. I have been seeing many warblers, so I thought I would probably have good luck. 

As I was parking, I noticed an adult Killdeer towards the passenger side of the car. I got out of the car slowly, went to the trunk and quietly got my camera gear ready. For me, this includes setting the aperture and shutter speed, so that I am able to shoot as soon as I step away from the car. 

As I made my way around the driver's side of the car, I noticed a second Killdeer. I was thinking I need to ask my friend if the resident Killdeers on the roof of her office have laid a nest yet. Then, I noticed a very small movement. 

Very small movement indeed! About 20 feet in front of me was the smallest, cutest, fluffiest little Killdeer. It could not have been more than 2 inches from the tip of its' beak to the end of it's tail. What made it even more lovely were the explosion of small pink wildflowers surrounding this little chick. 

As I watched, I saw three chicks. Killdeers lay 3 - 5 eggs, so this pair is having success with their brood so far. 

One of the chicks decided to venture out onto the nearby blacktop, before being encouraged to return the relative safety of the grasses by its' protective parent. 

I watched the Killdeer family for about 45 minutes before I headed off for more birding. What a wonderful way to start my photographic day. 

April 21, 2017 Fawn lilies blooming

Fawn lilies blooming in the woods at Hawks Prairie Ponds and Recharge Basins
Lacey, WA
April 21, 2017

Examples of Blue Hour photography - how light changes quickly at dusk

ISO 200  1/4 sec.  f/14  50mm   7:13 PM   March 16, 2017 
As the sun is setting, there is a big difference between the brightness of the sky and the ground below. Before the sun drops below the horizon, your landscape photograph is likely to have high contrast. It may be difficult to retain detail in both the sky and ground below. This is especially true on a sunny day, such as in the photograph above. 

ISO 400 1.3 sec.  f/16  70mm   7:37 PM   March 25, 2017
Equalizing the brightness of the sky and the land will be easier on an overcast day compared to a sunny day. The photograph above was taken as a light cloud cover set in. 

After the sun sets, there will be residual light in the sky. And, the brightness of the landscape will begin to balance with the lightness of the sky. 

In the photograph above, the shop lights are adding color to the scene. The street lamps have not turned on yet. 

ISO 400 1.3 sec.  f/16  70mm   7:40 PM   March 25, 2017
Three minutes later, the street lamps have turned on. Now, the street scene has blue light from the sky and warm light from the street lamps; this adds complexity and depth to the scene. Compare the two-dimensionality of the previous photograph to the way your eye moves back in this photograph. 

ISO 400 1.3 sec.  f/14  70mm   7:44 PM   March 25, 2017
It is amazing how much the light changes in a short period of time; eight minutes have elapsed since the second photo in this post. Note how much richer the sky appears in the final photo compared to the earlier image. Also note how the buildings are no longer getting much ambient light from the sky; the majority of the illumination on the buildings is now coming from street lamps. This is most evident in the tall building in the background. 

All photographs were taking using a tripod and self timer for stability. 

Women's March on Olympia, Washington - January 21, 2017

Women's March on Olympia, Washington
a sister march of the
Women's March on Washington

January 21, 2017

to see more photos from the event, go to

Multiple Exposure and Christmas Lights

Multiple-exposure image created with three in-camera exposures
As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, I have really enjoyed having the multiple exposure feature on my Canon 7D Mark ii. Canon has taken the ability to sandwich multiple photographs in-camera to a whole new level. 

When you shot double exposures back in the good old film days, the results were usually pretty random. A few cameras had the ability to re-set the shutter without advancing the film. For most of us, creating double exposures required either re-loading an exposed roll of film into the camera and shooting over the top of previous images; or, doing physical camera gymnastics to keep the camera from advancing the film in order to shoot an extra image. 

Nikon was one of the first digital manufacturers to incorporate double exposures into their digital cameras. What a wonderful new feature! With these cameras, you decided before you created the first shot that you wanted to make a multiple. And, you created your double exposures with the next images you shot. You could not preview how the images would overlap. The results were better than the old film days, but still left a huge amount to trial and error. (Which is part of the fun and spontaneity of creative photography)

Enter the new batch of Canon cameras. 

With my Canon 7D Mark ii, I can decide after the first shot is made to create a multiple exposure. And, I can use almost any photo on the memory card as the base image, even if I shot it days or weeks ago. Plus, I can preview how the images will overlap, using the Live View feature on my camera's LCD panel. This has taken multiple exposures to a whole new level of creativity. 

One additional exciting feature is choosing how the images will blend. I can choose from the following blends:
  • Additive - takes the exposures and combines them together for cumulative brightness. For example, if I shoot every image with normal exposure and I overlap 3 images, the image will be overexposed; 1 normal + 1 normal + 1 normal = 3x normal or overexposed

    If I shoot underexposed by 2/3 stop, I should have a relatively normal exposure;
    1/3 + 1/3 + 1/3 = 1 (normal)

    The cool thing is that you don't have to do the math. Just experiment until you get the right combo to make the image as bright as needed.
  • Average - takes the average of the exposures and creates a finished image
  • Bright - chooses the brightest pixels from each layer and displays those pixels.
  • Dark - chooses the darkest pixels from each sandwiched image and displays those pixels
For the images in this blog post, I used the additive setting. This works well when so much of each image is black. The image will appear to overlap only where there is color.

As you read my process below, don't be deterred by the seemingly complex process. Although I am explaining what I have done, much of the process is still seat-of-the-pants creative photography. My explanation is intended to give you a starting point for your own fun.

Exposure #1
ISO 400  1/40 sec. f/4.5  200mm

(click to enlarge)
For the first image, I wanted a bokeh effect of large, slightly out-of-focus circles. This is usually easy to achieve with a longer telephoto lens like a 200mm, shooting at a low numbered aperture. I made sure that the camera was braced so that the edges of the circles were crisp. 

Two things to note about the Canon camera and multiple exposures. Whatever ISO you use for your first image will be the ISO for all images. Choose carefully, especially in extreme shooting situations like bright sunlight or dark of night. The other feature that is set by the first image is your white balance. 

Here is the second image I made. Note that the Canon camera has the ability to save the base images individually, so you can use them as separate images or play with layers later on in Photoshop or other software. Very useful if you don't quite like your alignment. 
Exposure #2
ISO 400  1/100 sec. f/4  115mm
Here is what the first and second images look like as a multiple. This is the way the camera combined the two images. Note the translucence created by adding the layers together.
First Multiple
Combining Images #1 and #2
After I got a combination I liked, I set about adding third images to the first multiple. One of the beautiful things about the Canon 7D Mark ii is the ability to use the same base image for several multiples. You get a chance to try different techniques, compositions, exposures and combinations. 

Here is my first attempt at a 3rd layer for the multiple. I moved the camera diagonally while shooting to create the movement effect.
Exposure #3
ISO 400  1/4 sec. f/11  150mm
And, here is the first combination again. I like how animated and festive the different sized elements become in the final image.
First Finished image

Since the Canon gives me the opportunity to use one base image for multiple finished compositions, I shot several versions of the final image. Here is another option for a finished image.
Second finished image created with different 3rd exposure

Same first image as above
Combining Images #1 and #2

Exposure #4
ISO 400  1/5 sec. f/11  200mm

December 21, 2016 Bufflehead diving

Male bufflehead duck beginning a dive at Budd Inlet on South Puget Sound
Olympia, WA
December 21, 2016

The photo above looks deceptively simple at first glance. The distinctive white male bufflehead is a familiar sight for anyone who has hung around the water in Western Washington in the Winter. Hang around for a minute or two and you are sure to see one of their acrobatic dives into the deep where they forage for food. 

What is unique about the photo is catching the duck in mid-dive, before his bill breaks the surface of the water. 

It takes less than 1 second from the beginning of the dive until all that is left is the splash. 

Here is an animated image which contains a sequence of 6 frames of a male bufflehead diving. I have slowed it down to 1/5th the original speed, so 6/10 of a second is expanded to 3 seconds. You can see that I only managed two frames before the duck's head disappears below the surface. 

 The keys to capturing the desired precise moment are twofold; first, own a camera capable of at least 7 frames per second shooting, so you will have 1-3 frames during the dive. I waited a long time for Canon's 7D Mark ii to arrive on the scene with it's 10 frames per second. Some of the new mirrorless cameras can shoot over 20 frames in a second. The second factor is being able to anticipate when the duck is going to dive. This takes many hours of watching and studying the duck's behavior to see what signal it might give. In the case of most diving ducks, they change the shape of their neck right before they dive. If you can spot this change, you can press the shutter just as the duck is beginning to dive. It also takes a good deal of practice to get the photographer's eye and hand synchronized. 

Here is the same dive as above, at real speed. You can still see the individual frames, but much harder to separate the action from the fluid motion of the dive. 

December 21, 2016 - Surf Scoter about to eat a whole clam

Male juvenile surf scoter eating a clam 
Budd Inlet in Olympia, Washington
December 21, 2016

I have always had a strong stomach. I enjoy eating hot and spicy foods, with few digestive problems. My culinary escapades seem positively weak compared to the eating habits of the scoter family. 

Scoters are diving ducks who winter along the coasts of the lower 48 states. Many of them breed in the Hudson Bay area and in the Arctic. Surf scoters are a common sight on Puget Sound during the winter months. The males are sometimes confused with puffins because of their jet black color and orange and white beaks. 

The diet of Surf scoters is primarily mollusks, with some crustaceans, small fishes and marine worms thrown in to their diet. After diving for clams or mussels, Surf scoters eat the whole thing - shell and all. Their powerful gizzard helps them to process the food from the shells.

I watched a small group of mostly female and juvenile scoters feed. In the course of a quarter hour, some of the ducks appeared to eat at least a half dozen clams. Pretty amazing!

Detail of the photograph above
Note the ridges along the sides of the Surf scoter's mouth,
which help to position and move mollusks so that
they can be easily swallowed

Photographing Holiday Lights using the Zoom Effect

Photographing Holiday Lights using the Zoom Effect

One fun, creative technique to try when photographing seasonal lights is the zoom blur effect. This effect creates a look of things bursting forward or moving backward in space. 

It is possible to create a zoom effect in post-processing using Adobe Photoshop filters and layering techniques. 

It is also possible to create the effect in-camera while you make the original images. I like doing the effect in-camera because the results are somewhat less predictable and seemingly more organic. 

All of the photographs below were created during daylight hours using the zoom effect while shooting the photographs. 

I made the images in a corridor of an office complex in the International District of Seattle which houses the headquarters for Paul Allen's Vulcan Corporation. Paul Allen is also the owner of the Seattle Seahawks. That is why the lights are in Seahawks team colors!

Here's my technique: 

  1. Place your camera on a tripod. This will make it easier to zoom the lens while you are also shooting. 
  2. Set your camera on either Manual or Aperture Priority mode. If you are shooting at night, Manual is recommended so that the camera does not overexpose to compensate for the black surrounding your lights. Since I was photographing during daytime hours and the background of my images was close to middle gray, I was able to shoot in Aperture Priority mode and let the camera choose the shutter speed for me. 
  3. Set your ISO to 100, 200 or 400. Do not set your ISO to a high ISO. This defeats the purpose of getting a longer shutter speed. 
  4. Set your aperture to a high number, like f/11, f/16 or f/22
  5. Take a test shot without zooming. Your goal is to have a shutter speed between 1/15 sec. and 1/3 second. If your test shot has a faster shutter speed like 1/30 sec., use a higher numbered aperture or lower ISO. If your shutter speed has a slow shutter speed like 1 second, use a lower numbered aperture or higher ISO. 
  6. Take as many test shots as needed to get an exposure combination with a shutter speed between 1/15 and 1/3 second. 
  7. Put your lens/camera on manual focus. You do not want your camera to try to re-focus between shots. 
  8. Set your motor drive to continuous. 
  9. Place your hand so that it rests comfortably on your zoom. Test moving the zoom control back and forth until you are comfortable with turning the zoom smoothly. 
  10. Place your other hand on your shutter button. 
  11. As you begin zooming slowly, press your shutter button down and hold. Zoom back and forth, adjusting your zoom speed, all while holding the shutter button down. 
  12. After shooting 5 - 10 shots, review your work. Adjust composition, exposure and zooming speed to improve your photos or get different results. 
  13. Rinse, repeat and HAVE FUN! 

When you have finished taking your shots:

  • reset your lens/camera to auto-focus
  • reset your aperture to a middle of the road aperture like f/8
  • reset your ISO to your default ISO
  • take the camera out of manual mode if it is not your regular shooting mode

ISO 400    1/3 sec.   f/18
 Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM Lens

ISO 400    1/3 sec.   f/20
 Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM Lens
ISO 400    1/3 sec.   f/18  (cropped image)
 Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM Lens

ISO 400    1/3 sec.   f/20
 Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM Lens

November 10, 2016 Waiting

Waiting to cross; Shadows on a sunny Fall day
International District
Seattle, Washington

November 10,2016

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