Posts Tagged ‘nature’


Birds On A Beach

February 2, 2019

Endless birds,
adorn the beach,
oblivious to passers-by.

I venture close,
’bout to reach,
they explode upon the sky.

In a flash,
the scene is set,
as Plovers obscure my view.

It was a glimpse,
I’ll not forget,
this dimming of daylight’s hew.

‘Twas my choice,
that morn to make,
as I walked along the shore.

Pass them by,
and make no wake,
or enjoy them all the more.

Picked the one,
that made me smile,
by my sending birds to flight.

Ask of them,
forgive my guile,”
requesting this glorious sight.

Up to us,
just what we see,
as we trek about this place.

Give a nudge,
to what will be,
and see this world with its grace.


Shooting Birds

January 5, 2019
Click Image to enlarge

I’m often asked what the best way is to capture images of birds.  That is a big question with more and one right answer.  A better question is to ask where to start when capturing birds with a camera. 

Here is how I go about it:

When shooting birds, I use the larges lens I have available to me.  Most of the time I use my Nikkor 70 – 300mm 4-5.6 G.  It is not as crisp as a prime but gives great results and in 99% of the cases, I do not need to go shallower than f5.6. For the camera body, use what you have, of course, but if you can choose between a crop or full sensor, go with the full.  It makes a huge difference in post-processing.

First off, I want to control the camera, so I shoot in Manual most of the time.  Sometimes I will use Shutter Priority, but I find it easier to just pick my settings, then let the ISO float as needed with ISO-Auto on.  Either way, manual or shutter priority, I set the ISO to at least 800, then keep the ISO-Auto on so it goes higher as needed. 

A note about JPG vs. RAW:  If you have the ability to shot in RAW, do so.  I only shoot in raw and never have my camera create JPGs.  Relating back to the days of film, JPGs are like the finished print and RAW is like the negative.  The print (JPG) is done, little can be done to fix issues with it, the negative (RAW) give us the ability to change almost everything in post-processing.  I am the photographer, not my camera. I control my images, not the little silicon brain in my camera.

Next, you have to understand how your camera focuses.  In most DSLRs and some point and shoots, you can control how the lens focuses on a subject.  I will either use small-group or single-point focus.  I use single-point unless I anticipate the subject flying away.  I have found my Nikon D810 keeps focus better with a small-group setting than single-point when birds are flying.  Single-point will give you the sharpest image if your subjects cooperate.  However, what I pick I stay with as I don’t like to change in the middle of a shoot.  That works for a small group or single bird.  For a flock or large group, selecting the multi-point focus options will give reliable results but they are not required by any means.

I stet the DOF to something on the shallow side of middle, f7.1 or lower, f9 is as deep as I go for single birds or a couple of birds unless I have something specific I want to achieve.  Because I have ISO-Auto on, I set my shutter to 1/1000” to start and shot some test images.  I then adjust up or down as needed.  A stationary water bird might get an 1/800” or even a 1/650”, but never lower than that handholding a lens with the reach to shoot birds.  For fast birds, like hummingbirds, I set the shutter speed as high as 2000 but will keep my eye on the ISO to make sure it is not maxed out and giving improper exposure.

Often, it is desired to drop out the background in an image which normally needs a shallower DOF than 5.6.  The trick to solving this problem is decreasing the distance to the subject.  For most of us, our 300mm lenses only go as low as 4 or 5.6.

The DOF for a Nikkor 70-300mm at 300mm, using f5.6 is:

Distance (ft) DOF (inches)
10 1.37
20 5.47
30 12.30
40 21.86
50 34.17

As you can see, the sweet spot for dropping out the background will be between 20 and 30 feet.  Anything less and you will loose focus on parts of the bird being shot, anything more and you will need to post-process and edit in Photoshop or the like to get a decent result.

Now that the DOF is set and you know your target distance, most often at 20 feet of greater, you will need to crop your image to get the desired detail and to mimic the goal of filling the frame, this is where the use of a full-frame sensor pays dividends.  At 20 ft, the field of view for the Nikkor 70-300mm at 300mm is around 3 feet horizontally.  At 30 feet it’s around 3.5 feet.  Most likely, cropping will be needed to produce an image that is artistically appealing.   Because of this, it is critical than the subject be in focus.  Imperfections will be amplified.  Single point of focus and a higher shutter speed will give you crisp results.

Keep in mind, hand-holding a 300mm lens requires a shutter speed of at least 1/600”, even with a FX (full-frame) camera body.  Purists will point out that with a full-frame 1/300” is all that is needed. That is true enough, if you don’t crop, but cropping is the trick in getting the effect of a lower DOF lens with a f5.6 lens that fills the frame.  Given that you will not know if cropping is needed until post-processing, it’s best to shot as if it is needed.  What you give up in shutter speed you can make up for in in sharpness.

As for white-balance, shooting in RAW allows me to change it in post-processing but it is better to get the right balance from the start.  I use an expodisk 2 to set the Kelvin value for me.  Otherwise I simply place it in AUTO and adjust in post.  I also set the exposure metering to spot, this is key in dropping out the background as the exposure will be set to enhance the bird and not the background.  

Another benefit to shooting stationary birds with a higher shutter speed is they do not stay stationary long, especially when moving closer.  You will not have time to adjust your setting, so it best to be prepared for the inevitable.  Some of my best images came from exactly this scenario, I wanted to capture something like a Blue Heron feeding, only to have them fly off. It was being ready for 5 or 6 seconds of flight that allowed me to capture the image.  Had I worried about camera settings, it would have been too late.

Click Image to enlarge

Now that all that is set up, it’s time for you to get creative.  Before I shoot, I see in my mind the image I want to create.  I frame my shoot and focal point to give me that image.  For example, I shot this image of the egret at the pond using my D810 and Nikkor 70 – 300mm at 300mm, ISO-Auto (220) f9, 1/1000” white balance in AUTO and spot metering.  I rotated my camera to portrait to include the reflection of the egret.  In landscape, it is just a bird on a green background. I also used the rule of thirds and set both the bird and reflection on the right third line.  I only cropped the image to a 5×7 format with no enlargement at all.  The only non-standard post-processing was to tone down the greens to give them more contrast adding to the image’s depth.      

In the end, that are many ways to achieve the results you want and this is truly just a starting point.  This is how I do it with the equipment I have.  Not all of us can plop down 6-grand on a 600mm f1.2 lens. There are no hard rules that cannot be broken.  Shot what works for you but shot!  You will not get the shot sitting on your couch.  You might take a hundred images to get the one you want to share.  So what, as long as you get the one!     

Happy shooting!


What to do with all the “average” images

January 3, 2019

I grew up in photography having “take the shot” drilled into my head.  It makes sense but it does create an issue – what to do with all the images that are not quite good enough to fully develop? Tilt-shift is one good possibility.

Tilt-shift lens have been around for years.  They are used in some of the advanced technical types of photography.  Today, we have the option of creating a tilt-shift effect in post-processing.  It is a creative why to breath some life into your collection less than stunning images you pass over when selecting which ones development time is spent.

Most all commercial post processing software, like Lightroom and AlienSkin, offer some level of the effect.  Here is a good example, Image 1 in the image before tilt-shift. Image 2 is the same image with only the tilt-shift applied.

Image 1: Anhinga at Pond, No Tilt-shift
Image 2: Anhinga at Pond, Tilt-shift applied

With tilt-shift, we can take what is a flat image, with little pop, and change it into something that resembles a toy model.  Not a whole lot of application but at least it’s an option on something we can do with the hundreds of images that did not make the cut.


A Fine Fall Day

November 7, 2013

Walking this morning just before a rain storm set in.

Walking this morning just before a rain storm set in.

Took my sister’s dog, Sammy, for a walk this morning.  Fall is such a wonderful time of year.  Maybe it’s my age, who knows, but fall has become my favorite season of the year.  Spring is nice and full of new, summer is bold and hearty, winter is steady and rests the world, but fall shows us the beauty of change.  There is a lesson there for us all.

Here are two poems to fall I wrote a few years back:


Fallen Leaves


Walking the woodland on fallen leaves
my mind soon ambles free
Each step crisp with sound
each sound a whispering sprite
Though this is a trail well-worn
a newness still takes hold
New sprites lead to other paths
new paths that refresh my soul
Further I trod on fallen leaves –
come join my wondering mind
Then soon you’ll hear the murmuring song
then song can heal your soul


Walking the woodland on fallen leaves
we stir with natured hearts
Each step heals life’s hurt
each hurt released from our souls
Though our mind’s a trail well-warn
a newness still survives
New thoughts falling down like leaves
new leaves that whisper too
Further we trod to heal ourselves –
calling all to join our trek
Then soon ’twill be humanities time
then time will heal the world

Fall’s Great Reason

As the warmth of days begins to wane
and crispness fills the sky
We watch the forest full of leaves
change colors in reply

Excitement’s felt throughout the land
as change takes its hold
With wondrous shades of gold and red
Fall’s beauty does unfold

New fallen leaves blanket the ground
and crunch beneath our feet
We stop to hear the rustling of wind
on limbs it seeks to meet

And all beasts know at this time of year
that winter’s on the way
So now’s the time to collect things up
tucked for a colder day

A squirrel take nuts, a man does thoughts
to last the days and weeks
in the time when snow rules the skies,
oceans and distal peaks

So we think of how the world then turns
in changes so profound
Much like spring, summer, winter and fall
seasons in us are found

Spring gives life and summer the hope
to meet the world so well
We grow, we learn and then make our way
living our lives pell-mell

Fall gives color to days we live
adding to life’s great tome
Color for yarns and tales we tell
before winter calls us home

So enjoy each of fall’s precious days
though it was made of gold
It’s in the fall we understand life’s
a story to unfold


Poetry Sunday: Short Poems

May 20, 2012

Poems come in all shapes and sizes and most certainly cover every imaginable topic.  There are the lengthy epic poems like Milton’s Paradise Lost, decreasing in size like Rumi’s quatrains, until we arrive at the short haiku masters like Bashō.

The long epic poems read like novels.  They have room for plots and changes in mood and character.  Length dictates shorter works to be more singularly focused.  In fact, singularity is what makes them work.  You might think a short poem takes but a moment to compose.  Sometimes they do, but more often short poems take as much, if not more, time to construct as poems with lengthier word heft.  There are styles, like the Shakespearian Sonnet, that dictate length, but many works of metered and free verse employ the brevity short poems.

I consider a short poem to be any that fits on a single page, and that means one column.  We all know there are people out there that can cram War and Peace onto a grain of rice, I mean reading poetry under normal conditions.  Others arbitrarily define short poems as having six quatrains of less, or twenty-four lines.  With my definition in mind, most poems are short poems.

For me, short poems are more about that singularity than a specific length limit.  A true master of the short poem is Emily Dickenson, one of my

Emily Dickinson Daguerreotype

two favorite poets by the way.  She used a delicate turn of phrase to draw the reader to a single thought.  Here is a nice poem of hers that illustrates the point:


“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

This poem obviously focuses on hope but expands out to show the impact hope has as well as the effect the world has upon hope.  With only eighty-two words, Emily explains one of life’s trickier subjects to grasp.  Yes, there is much more to hope than any one poem can encompass, but this is a complete view of one way to see it.  It is powerful and has a depth that goes beyond its few lines.  At the same time is shows strength, it also shows frailty.  That juxtaposition is common in shorter poems.

Not all short poems use comparison directly.  Here is a poem of mine that uses both simile and metaphor to explain what I mean by beauty.  It is markedly different from Emily’s example, and I do not mean to suggest I am as fine a poet as she is by the comparison.  While she employs direct metaphors (“Hope” is a thing with feathers) to open her poem, I use the poem as a whole to compare beauty to grace.  What the poems have in common is to explain a single thought.

The Beauty of Every Woman

The beauty of every woman
is not about the look
and to think it so would be the same
as the drop to sum the brook

Her soul’s the place where beauty writes
each volume of her tome
Then soon the essence of every book
finds her heart and calls it home

From her heart-page each measure is read
to discover her gentle ways
providing to all life’s caring love
and guide us throughout our days

The beauty of every woman
is all about the soul
Her spirit being life’s precious scribe
etching upon our scrolls

You see, true beauty is a woman
no matter what her face
for beauty is seen by special eyes
put simply, ‘tis godly grace


Bashō Statue

As a quasi-rule, the shorter the poem, the more it counts on comparison as a device.  As the length shortens, each word takes on greater importance in conveying the poet’s message.  On the extreme end are the shorter Japanese styles we in the West lump into the term haiku.  Traditionally, not only are haiku short, they also need to have a subject dealing with a season of the year or nature in some way.  Modern haiku are less restrictive on that point.  What all properly formed haiku have in common is juxtaposition and a cutting work known as “kireji.”  It is not always easy to pick out the kireji in haiku translated from Japanese; it is true that something is lost.  The most famous haiku is Bashō’s Old Pond:

old pond . . .
a frog leaps in
water’s sound

To really get haiku, the reader must take each line separately.  Read them with a pause, for a thought, and then read the next line.  Look at it this way, if we read “old pond a frog leaps in water’s sound, it is sort of flat.  If we read it with pause and use “in” as the kireji, it takes on depth: “old pond… | a frog leaps in | in water’s sound.”  It causes us to consider the thought of each line as well as the overall thought of the poem.  Read properly, a few little words can be very powerful.

I have not written many haiku.  Here is one that came to mind while watching a military funeral at Beaufort National Cemetery, in Beaufort, SC:

Sacred Stones

volley chases air
gathered loved ones flinch and weep
a lone bugle cries

It would have to be considered “westernized” as I did not employ a kireji directly but I do tie the lines together with the juxtaposition of “weep” and “cries.”  Still, it holds a powerful thought.  If you have ever witnessed a military funeral with full honors, this haiku will stir your soul, if not, it will give you an idea of it.

In the end, short poems are like a punch to the gut, they knock the wind out of you.  Each line has to get right down to business and move the poem along.  Part of the appeal is the space this leaves for the reader to fill in the gaps with their own personal feeling and experiences.  Maybe that is the appeal of short poems in the first place.

I will end with a free verse example that speaks for itself and has no need for an explanation as to my meaning.  It truly illustrates the emotional power a short poem can have.


If all you wanted was my heartbeat,
you only had to ask.
Each beat, each pulse of it
is there only for you.
There is no need for deception,
though easy a mark am I.
I believe all you tell me, each lie,
I do not question them.
I cannot – I will not!
For I am lost in the promise of what might be,
what never was.

Take them all…
I have no further use for heartbeats.


Poetry Sunday: The Moon and Stars

May 6, 2012

Even poet has themes they return to often.  For me, it is nature, in generally and the ocean and skies specifically.  It is the latter I wish to discuss here, the heavens.  Since our ancestors first looked up in amazement as the little lights painted against the night’s black, out nightly view has captivated us.  Science has removed some of the mystical aspects from it but replaced it with questions even more profound, like whom we really are, and what is our role in our vast universe.

Of course, there are very famous poems regarding the night sky, one of the most famous by English poet Jane Taylor.  The Star first appeared the book Rhymes for the Nursery she co-authored with her sister Ann in 1806; I could only find the first US printing[i].  Now, at this point you might be saying to yourself I’ve never heard of a poem called “The Star,” and you would be wrong, you just know it by its informal name.   I will leave it for you to discover as you read.

The Star

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.

When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.

Then the traveler[sic] in the dark,
Thanks you for your tiny spark,
He could not see which way to go,
If you did not twinkle so.

In the dark blue sky you keep,
And often through my curtains peep,
For you never shut your eye,
Till the sun is in the sky.

As your bright and tiny spark,
Lights the traveler[sic] in the dark.
Though I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star.
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star.
How I wonder what you are.
How I wonder what you are.

The opening stanza is so ubiquitous we hardly give a thought to its authorship, which is sad, as it is one of the few nursery rhyme poems where the origin is not in dispute.  When we move beyond that first stanza, we see the poem has more to offer the reader than the simplicity of its opening.  Each stanza consists of two rhymed couplets, except for the last stanza that is constructed to end the song. Of course, we know it with its tune too.  That was taken from the French folk song  “Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman.” 

The rhymed couplets and evenly metered lines give the poem its whimsically singing quality as you read it.  The choice of meter is not serendipitous; the poet bases it on how they wish the poem to feel and pick the appropriate meter to achieve that feeling.

As for me, I tend to use a staggered meter when I write, either a 4/3 or a 5/4.  That is not to say I use them exclusively, just they are a natural choice for me.  In my poem Shooting Star, I use a 5/3 meter.  I like using staggered metering as it provides a natural pause known as a caesura.  See if you can pick it up:

Shooting Star

On a cold clear night with a million stars
I watched one streak the sky
A flickering sprite shooting straight past Mars
grew bold to catch my eye

For a moment of time this life burned bright
and held my solemn gaze
It was soon devoured with no trail in sight
and left me in a haze

Then this impatient star that streaked the night –
gave thought along my way
Some orbs shine still while yet others take flight
each, with its role to play

We live out our lives much like a star
moving throughout the day

Pulled by hidden forces both near and far
we’re changed along the way

Some will stay put and give a guiding light
for everyone to see
Others will shoot out far and blaze from sight
being burned by breaking free

So, here are two examples of poems dealing with stars.  The meter of one lends itself to a nursery rhyme and the meter of the other lends itself to give us pause to think.  The variations are almost limitless, and it all depends on the emotion or feeling the poet wishes to instill.  In this next poem, I picked a middle ground, not quite whimsical and not quite serious.  See if you can pick out the device used that makes the difference:

Venus and the Crescent Moon

A cool waxen peel of light,
kissed gently upon the sky,
A greenish nymph calls from night,
and waits for the moon’s reply.

Earthshine gives her ghostly glow,
to the crescent moon’s remains;
night permits the sprite to show,
a bright dot of cottoned grain.

Play the night the bodies do,
each chasing the Milky Way,
joy and hope they do imbue,
armor for our coming day.

Venus goes fast through the night,
while asking the moon to stay;
She knows their place in our sight,
and winks as she fades away.

Things in the sky have a life,
and great guidance to bestow,
a flash reprieve from our strife,
’tis a better path they show.

Watch the night on special eves,
and see this for yourself,
beyond the boughs full of leaves,
moon slice awaits impish elf.

I’m thankful that we have stars that seem unchanging.  It gives me a since of being connected to know the Jane may have been looking at the same stars as me, some 200 years later, as we both crafted our poems.  That is one of the most intriguing points about using the night sky as your inspiration, it is one of the few unchanging things we have.


[i] Taylor, Ann, and Jane Taylor. Rhymes for the Nursery. Utica [N.Y.: Printed and Sold by Camp, Merrell & Camp, 1815. Print.

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