Photo of the Week - June 30, 2011

Photo Composite
Male Wood Duck in eclipse plumage
Aix sponsa

McLane Creek Nature Trail
Olympia, WA
June 30, 2011

If this week's photo outing were Sesame Street, it would have been sponsored by the letter "W". I spent the better part of a day at McLane Creek Nature Trail in Olympia observing Wood duck families, warblers (Common Yellowthroat and Wilson's), Willow flycatchers, and water creatures (including newts).

The Wood ducks are a particular joy to see. At least seven juvenile Wood ducks can be seen exploring the pond. They are old enough to investigate the beaver pond on their own, although they are not able to fly yet. Two female and two male Wood ducks can also be seen on the pond.
Juvenile Wood Duck
This individual is not able to fly yet.

An interesting feature of birds in general and ducks in particular is eclipse plumage. The transformation takes place when drakes shed their body feathers after mating. The bright plumage necessary to attract a mate is no longer needed, so the males replace their feathers with a muted color scheme. Males lose their iridescent green head and bold stripes. However, their distinctive red eyes and bill are still present. Wood ducks can have two broods per year and so eclipse plumage will not appear until summertime.  
Male Wood duck in eclipse plumage

Female Wood Duck

McLane Creek Nature Trail is part of Capitol Forest in Olympia, managed by Washington State's Department of Natural Resources. It is a popular hiking location in all seasons with its diversity of plant and animal life. In the Spring, hundreds of people come to see the rough skinned newts swimming in the pond. As summer arrives, sounds of Red Winged Blackbirds and Warblers fill the air near the ponds as Swainson's Thrushes make a chorus of music in the surrounding woods. Fall brings an amazing crush of spawning salmon to the creek. Winter is time to enjoy native birds, including Spotted Towhees and Chickadees as they forage amongst the old growth stumps of century-old logging operations.

McLane Creek Nature Trail is easy for all ages and includes some wheelchair accessible paths.

Get a copy of the McLane Creek trail map here

Creating a composite image using Photoshop

The purpose of this exercise is to create a composite image using multiple photos stitched together in Photoshop to create a single image.
We will create two different composite images in this exercise: the first is a panoramic stitched image, wider than any camera view; the second is a layered image of the same scene where elements have moved or changed.
When shooting images for a stitched photo, keep some things in mind:
  • Images should overlap by at least 20%. The greater the amount of overlap the less lens distortion comes into play. Images with 10% or less overlap will be hard to stitch together.
  • Avoid using wide angle lenses when shooting images for stitching. Wide-angle incorporates curvature as it widens the view.
  • Do not use a polarizing filter when shooting images which are to be stitched. The amount of polarization will vary as you rotate your camera and one edge of the picture will be darker than the other.
  • Use the same exposure on all images. I recommend shooting a test image in aperture priority or program mode with the zooms set where I will be using it for the series of images. Check to make sure that this is the proper exposure by using your histogram in playback mode. If the exposure is correct, take note of the aperture and shutter speed settings, go to your camera’s manual mode, and sets the same aperture and shutter speed settings there. If the exposure is incorrect, darken or lighten the picture accordingly.
  • Try to shoot your image on a day with relatively even lightning; harsh light or strong shadows can make stitching difficult and may make your picture unattractive.
Once you have shot you were series of images you are ready to begin stitching.

Example 1: stitched panoramic
  1. Open Adobe Bridge and navigate to the folder containing your images
  2. Single click on the first image in the series; hold down your shift key and click the last image in the series.
  3. Click Tools >  Photoshop  >  Photomerge
  4. The Photomerge dialogue box will open - choose Interactive Layout
    • Click OK.
    • Wait for Photoshop to make the preliminary stitch.
    • Once the preliminary stitch has been made you can drag any of the pictures around for a better match. You can also delete pictures from the panoramic image by dragging them to the bar above the composite.
    • Click OK
  5. Photoshop will create a stitched version of your series.
  6. Save your work as a PSD or TIF file to keep the layers.
  7. Crop to remove any jagged edges.
  8. Make a test print.
  9. If you are satisfied with your results, flatten your image by clicking Layer > Flatten Image.
  10. Click file > Save as to save your flattened file as a PSD, TIF or JPEG.
To view instructions on how to create a stitched panorama using Photoshop Elements, go to

Example 2: layered composite
  • Open Adobe Bridge and navigate to the folder containing your images
  • Single click on the first image in the series; hold down your control key and click on additional thumbnails of images you'd like to layer.
  • Click Tools  > Photoshop > Load files into Photoshop layers.
  • Photoshop will open a new document with each image of your series as a layer in the document.
  • Go to the layers panel. Hold down the shift key and click on the bottommost layer(this should make all your layers active).
  • Click Edit  > Auto-align layers.
  • Auto align layers dialogue box will open; choose auto and click OK.
  • Photoshop will align your layers. If the resulting image looks distorted, close the file without saving and return to the beginning of the exercise. When the dialogue box opens for the second time choose reposition as your alignment option.
  • Save your work as a PSD or TIF file to keep the layers.
  • Most likely part of one image will be obscuring part of the other so you will need to determine which image is your base image. Go to the layers panel and turn off the visibility of each of your layers by clicking the eyeball at the left-hand side of the column. Choose one of your layers as your primary image and drag it to the bottom of the layers panel so that it becomes the background image.
  • Turn on the visibility of your first non-background layer. Make this layer your active layer by clicking on it in the layers panel. Zoom in as necessary to see detail.
  • Use a selection tool such as the lasso, magic wand or quick select tool to outline the area you would like to keep.
  • Click Select > Refine edge to soften and feather your subject.
  • Click Layer > layer mask > reveal selection. Now you should see your background image with your first non-background image layered above it.
  • Save your work.
  • You may find that you are image needs a little softening where your first non-background image merges with the background. If this is the case, will need to adjust your mask. Begin by typing "d" on your keyboard to set your colors to default.
  • Zoom in as necessary.
  • Choose either your brush tool to add to the subject or your eraser tool to remove parts of the subject.
  • Using a small to medium-size brush, paint or erase to clean up the edges of your selection. If you erase too much, you can switch to the brush tool and paint the detail back in.
  • Save your work.
  • If you are making a composite with more than one added component make your next non-background layer the active layer. Repeat steps above to add your next image.
  • Crop your image for best composition.
  • Make a test print.
  • If you are satisfied with your results, flatten your image by clicking Layer  > Flatten Image.
  • Click file  > save as to save your flattened file as a PSD, TIF or JPEG.
To learn more about Layer masks in Photoshop CS5, go to

To learn more about clipping paths in Photoshop Elements, go to my post on them

or the Photoshop Elements help file:

Photo of the Week - June 22, 2011

Inside the Salsify Seed Head

Catherine Creek
Klickitat County, WA
June 22, 2011

Photo of the Week - June 14, 2011

Warbling Vireo
Vireo gilvus
Black River
Littlerock, WA
June 14, 2011

According to the Cornell Lab of ornithology, the Warbling Vireo is, "A drab bird of riparian woodlands, the Warbling Vireo is more easily heard than seen. It has no distinctive field marks, but its rapid warbling song with a accented, high-pitched last note is relatively easy to recognize."
Birders at all levels are familiar with two of the most common birds you are likely to see out in the woods-the LBJ and the LBB-which translate to " little brown jobbie" and "little brown bird". These are the generic terms one uses when there are no easily seen characteristics. After many years watching birds, I have become very adept at finding the LBB and LBJ. So, imagine my excitement when I saw what could most readily be termed a "little gray bird"  of about 5 inches who was flitting about in the willows and making almost no sound and I recognized it as something new and different. I felt like I had finally graduated from birding elementary school and passed my first middle school test. It is easy to recognize a bird as large and colorful as the tanager or as majestic as a bald eagle. It is another thing to identify a 5 inch bird whose only distinguishing feature is the white line above its eye.
The Warbling Vireo migrates as far as Central America and Mexico. In the Puget Sound region you are likely to find Warbling Vireos in riparian habitats with cottonwood and willow trees. They forage for their insect diet high in treetops. Warbling Vireo are commonly seen May through August.  
To learn more about Warbling Vireo's in Puget Sound region, go to Seattle Audubon's Birdweb site.

Photo of the Week - June 10, 2011

Female Common Yellowthroat warbler with insects
preparing to feed her young while perching on a Pacific Ninebark bush.

 Common Yellowthroat warbler
Geothlypis trichas

Black River
Littlerock, Washington
June 10, 2011

While the male of the species is familiar to many birders, with its "wich-i-ty, wich-i-ty, wich-i-ty" call and dramatic yellow and black coloring, the female Common Yellowthroat warbler is harder to see. Her drab coloring and quiet nature make her hard to spot in the dense green foliage of spring.

There are several things which impressed me about this photo; the first is to see how tiny the bird is when compared to the buds of the ninebark bush. When in full bloom, the ninebark blossoms measure between 2 and 3 inches; Yellowthroat warblers average between 4.25 and 5 inches. Pretty amazing that such a tiny bird is able to migrate to Mexico and back. The other thing that impresses me about the photo is how she is able to capture flying insects in her beak and then bring them back to feed her young.

The streamside thicket where I observed this beautiful bird provides nesting habitat or many pairs of Yellowthroat warblers.

To read more about the life of the Common Yellowthroat warbler,
go to All About Birds -the Cornell Lab of ornithology's great website

To learn more about Pacific nine bark and other native plants you may want to consider for your garden,
check out Portland's native plant guide

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