Neutral density graduated filters

If you ever tried to photograph a high contrast scene such as a late afternoon landscape or sunset you know that it is almost impossible to get a good exposure of the sky along with detail in the foreground or shadow areas. One way to get around this problem is by using high dynamic resolution (HDR). This process requires photo software to merge several photos, each exposed for a particular section of a scene, into one photograph that is properly exposed in all areas. HDR, however, requires more screen time, something I would gladly reduce.

Neutral density graduated filters provide an alternative for capturing high contrast settings.  By sliding the filter through its lens holder to the point just before any of the foreground starts to darken you will reduce the intensity of the sky so that you can get a more evenly exposed photograph.

I recently purchased a set of Cokin P series filters (H250A). The kit contains the filter holder and three neutral density graduated filters: 121L, 121M, and 121S. The first reduces exposure by 2, the second by 4, and the third by 4 with a more gradual shading from clear to neutral gray (the adaptor ring that connects the filter holder to the lens is extra). The total cost was $105, before tax.

I took a few photographs so you can see their effects (I made no processing adjustments to the photographs, other than applying lens correction to minimize distortion). The photographs were taken in mid-July at about 4:30PM. The first photograph was taken without a filter. Here, I exposed to the right (in this case 1/25 @ f22, ISO 100)–only the partial disk of the sun is overexposed.

In the next photo I used the 121L (ND2) filter (1/20 @ f22, ISO 100). Notice that the sky is a deeper blue and there is somewhat greater detail in the trees’ foliage.

The last photo shows the same scene with the 121M (ND4) filter (1/20 @ f22, ISO 100). Here the sky is darker still, yet with even greater detail in the trees’ foliage. You can also see that I did not lower the filter quite enough, as there is a lighter sky immediately above the trees. Had I lowered the filter more I would probably have even greater detail in the foliage.

Since landscapes are best shot at dawn and dusk, these filters should enable me to produce images with less contrast and more detail. Though I do like landscapes in their own right, I plan to shoot more of these to illustrate the habitats of my bird photographs. By so doing I anticipate providing greater context for describing the birds and the state of their respective populations over the past 30 or more years.

If you have been using neutral density filters in your work I would be happy to hear about your experiences with them.

Lightroom 4–yikes!

After being back-ordered for several weeks through my university, I was one of the first to install, or attempt to install, Lightroom 4 in May. Before ordering I naturally checked to see that my computer met all the usual requirements of memory and so forth, or so I thought.  When I got the disk home and started the install I was shocked to read the message, “Not compatible with this operating system.” What? I thought. I grabbed the box, “Requires Windows 7.” Up until then, everything I bought was compatible with XP, service pack 2. Since I had opened the package I was stuck. Besides, the reason I bought this was not because it could do more with video, but because it automates the insertion of latitude and longitude coordinates from Google Earth into my photos’ metadata. This is of real interest in bird photography, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology encourages the inclusion of these data for photos sent to its site http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=all+about+birds&f=hp –part of its Citizen Science Project. Oh, more thing. Lightroom 4 can produce personally designed photo-books in .PDF format, or printed copies through one of several print services.  Pretty nice features over earlier versions of Lightroom.

So, after running diagnostics on my machine to confirm that Windows 7 would run, I bought a copy, followed Microsoft’s on-line instructions, but could not get the computer to work properly.  I took the machine in to my local provider who reinstalled the system, but I still had problems at home.  They eventually sent a tech to my home, only to find that I had a second computer monitor cable attached, which upset the system.  I have no idea when or why I did this. Thus, the entire reinstall, not to mention loading all my other software, took about two weeks.

However, when all was said and done, and installed, I must say the computer runs better on 7, and Lightroom 4 has worked fine, though I’m just now preparing to use some of the new features.

If you have any comments about using Lightroom 4, I would love to hear them.

Into retirement

It’s been some time since my last post, and I have a backlog of photos from which to select and process for my on-line gallery. My “excuse” is that with late spring I spent more time providing flight instruction, along with wrapping up my academic career. However, as of July 1 I’ll be officially retired, though I’ll be doing some consulting on program evaluation projects.  In any event, I’ll have more time to devote to this blog, with one or two posts per week. Later this summer and early fall will usher in a series of bird photographs and landscapes from the Allegheny National Forest and the New York Adirondacks–I can’t wait!

The Pileated Woodpecker (Revisted)

For those of you who stayed tuned since my last post, I’ve revisited the secret location of the great Pileated Woodpecker. Closely resembling the likely extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker, but smaller with a black bill, they are most common in the southeast, but found in the northeast and across Canada.  They feed mostly on carpenter ants that they find in dead trees.

As you may recall, he (you can tell it’s a male because the red covers his full crown) was driven off by this guy, Bubba the Squirrel.

When I returned to the site on the following Friday, the Pileated was again driven off by Bubba, this time with the help of two of his friends–Bootsy and Kicksy. It seems to me that this giant woodpecker could have easily dispatch these squirrels with his powerful bill.  In any event, closer examination of the tree suggested that the dead spline on which he was drilling was a source of food, rather than the beginnings of a nest.  The tree’s spline did not look substantial enough to house these woodpeckers, nor did we ever see two, which you would expect in the case of nest-building.

I returned a third time this past week. My wife and I were no sooner set-up that the bird landed at the same exact position on the spline! How thoughtful. This photo shoot was almost like doing studio work. I took the shots and when I was done–he flew off, this time without any hassle from Bubba and his friends. Here is the Pileated in full regalia.

I told one of our Rochester birders about how easy it is to approach these birds on some occasions, and how difficult on others.  He said that if they have a good feeding spot they are pretty tolerant of people. But if they are drilling as a means to establish territory during the mating and breeding season, they quickly fly off when approached, due partly to the fact that they have to get to the next point in their perimeter to announce their presence.

If you have any stories to share about observing Pileateds I’d love to hear them.

Return of Spring

Yes, the flying Vs are back, this time headed North, more or less. We were recently out at Braddock Bay, Lake Ontario when I took this photo. We’ve been out a number of times, but the bird scene had been mostly limited to the usual winter suspects. There are, however, a number of Red-Wing Blackbirds that have returned to stake out their territories.

Meanwhile, every year we witness the attempt of House Finches to build a nest at the top of the column of our front porch and this year was no different They inevitably fail (how do they ever reproduce?)! They are then followed by the Robins who seem to have no problem at all building their nest–even though they appear to be far too large, given the available space. We’ve concluded that Robins are simply smarter at nest-building.

We’re anxiously awaiting the onslaught of the Warbler crowd, due into our area by the end of April, more or less. We’re on high alert! Last, but not least, we heard a Pileated Woodpecker drilling in the same location on two successive week-ends. The second time around, we decided to bushwhack our way to the sound of the drilling, stopping periodically, hoping to find the bird’s location. We suspected there were two birds drilling a hole for a nest, which can take up to several weeks. Sure enough, I found her/him. As I raised the camera with my 100-400mm lens, the bird flew off. We moved in closer, and low and behold, the bird returned–only to be driven off by a squirrel! We set the camera on a tripod and waited for nearly an hour–but no return. Meanwhile, the squirrel remained on guard. We weren’t sure if it was lying low because of us or trying to prevent the bird from returning.

If this hole is indeed for a nest, we figure the bird will be back. I plan to return early Friday morning to find out. If so, and not commandeered by the squirrel, we expect to go there regularly for what I hope to be some great Pileated shots, and perhaps the fledging of their young later this season.

Of course, just as true of fishermen, I won’t divulge this location since I want the exclusive on this hopefully developing story.

Stay tuned!