Wintry Willow

By the end of this weekend I’ll have the first part of my Nikon D800 review ready. The review I’m working on is important to me, as it forces myself to get to understand all the options and functions and to be able to fully benefit from all its features.

However, in the mean time I want to share a recent picture (taking with the D800) with you, as I don’t want my blog to become too technique and equipment heavy: After all, trying to create and share captivating images is what it’s really all about for most photographers; whether you’re a professional , enthusiast amateur or just a happy smart phone snapper. Equipment is just one of the many factors in the creative process.

The image below was taken early April. After record highs in March, we suddenly got a late cold snap, including a snow storm (click on the image to enlarge).
It was pretty windy, constantly blowing the willow branch up and down out of the frame. To get a good shot with my macro lens, I used a relatively big aperture (by macro standards anyway) an ISO of 800 to get a sufficiently fast shutter speed. Technically I don’t find the image that great, but the content makes it appealing to me: In this area you won’t often find snow on top of flowering willows.

And since I can’t help myself from being very excited with the performance of the D800, check out this 100% crop of the same image (click on the image to enlarge):

I should mention that I did some basic sharpening and noise reduction, but still: The detail is amazing and that at ISO 800. Before I’ll review the image quality of this camera, I’ll be covering the build and handling of the Nikon D800 first in the next post this weekend.

Crossroads

Last week, my wife and I enjoyed a brief holiday with my family on Terschelling, a Frisian Wadden Sea island off the coast of Fryslân, the Netherlands. With its quaint little towns, historical lighthouse and (by Dutch standards) large surface of nature reserve, I find it to be one of the more beautiful Wadden islands. Like the other islands, its salt marshes, meadows, dunes, forest and heath fields, along with the unique intertidal mudflats of the Wadden Sea provide an extremely important site for many species of migratory, wintering and breeding birds. An estimated 12 million(!) birds use the Wadden Sea area every year, so it’s not surprising that the UNESCO has listed it as a World Heritage Site.

Although it was too early for the peak of spring migration, we found plenty of gulls, of various species, on the beach. Gulls might seem somewhat boring or even a pest to many people, but they are (at least to a biologist) really interesting species. Few people realize for instance that the black-headed gull they see eating discarded fries from a garbage bin during the winter, might be found breeding in a marshy area in Estonia a few months later. So although many Europeans see black-headed gulls in their cities year-round, depending on when they see them, they might be of very different “nationalities”. The northerly breeding populations are all strictly migratory, whereas populations found more to the south might consist of year round residents. As such, gulls from different countries might cross paths in the winter season.

Eyes on the puck!

If you wonder why there haven’t been any posts in the last week: I was busy enjoying the winter. I have the privilege of working in an office less than a hundred meters from a lake, which was frozen for the last couple of weeks.

Besides playing a bit myself, I took a few shots while recovering from all the aches that come with skating (mostly the falling bit). Here an image showing players doing what hockey players are always supposed to do: Keeping the eyes on the puck.

Although this isn’t a particularly good image, it does illustrate nicely how one can use composition, posture and lines to lead the viewers’ eye. If you didn’t spot the puck initially, chances are that the eyes of the players, all looking in the same direction, as well as the sticks, lead you right to it. So without having the puck in the center of the image, it does become (a) focus of the image.

The player coming from the right didn’t make it into this frame. Although one could argue that this makes the image less complete, at the same time just seeing the stick coming from the right creates some tension in the image. It keeps the viewer guessing as to who stole the puck from the pack on the left and what will happen next.

Showing some leg

After two long posts featuring panorama and cropping techniques, today a short post featuring long legs.

Now you have to admit, that’s a lot of leg! What you see is four foraging Black-necked Stilts. Relative to their body, their legs are extremely long and only topped by flamingos, so their name fits them rather well. The two in the front are males and the two in the back, with the more brownish mantle, females.

The Black-necked Stilt is usually found in the shallow waters of mudflats, estuaries, lakes and other types of wetlands. There it feeds on vertebrates and small fish that live in and on the soft substrate. As with many so-called shorebirds, the long legs come in handy when wading through the water, keeping the rest of their body dry.

This crop is about 20% of the original, shot with my D300 and the 70-200mm, at 2.8. With this lens I had to be quite close. Rather than chasing the birds, I just waited at a good spot. Once the birds got used to my presence they came foraging very close to me. Although the afternoon light was a bit harsh, I felt that the nice line-up and their reflection made up for most of it.

Cropping

From stitching big to cropping small: Where the images in the panoramas of my previous post featured a multitude of the  MP (Megapixels) found in normal dslr images, today’s image, a female Costa’s Hummingbird, only has a fraction of my D300’s 12.3 MP:

To crop or not to crop
This image is a 22% crop, which means that it’s only 2.7MP. As you can see, even such a significant crop still produces an image that’s usable for web purposes. Some photographers try to convince others that cropping is bad. They think that you should just frame the image right from the start. While I agree that it would be ideal to do so, often it’s not only difficult, but simply impossible. Continue reading