Monday, 31 October 2011

And Now, Your NSFW Underwear Shoot BTS Video of the Day

Okay folks, we try to keep it reasonably family friendly here at Strobist. But every now and then something comes along that pretty much says, "Run me."

The video beyond the jump is NSFW-ish. As in there are nekkid people involved. You don't wanna see? Then don't click. Read more �


wildlife photography tips

MD Osprey Chick 2010


One of the 3 Osprey chicks from the nest in Maryland.

MD Osprey Chick

With this blog post I'm going to show how I edit and crop for effect. Here's the original photo with no cropping and just my base Lightroom import settings. These Lightroom settings include - saturation, whitebalance, and defringe edge correction. I have a preset for the settings I like to use as my own defaults for import. It took me a little while to come up with them, nothing too special, I just got tired of doing the same settings every time. Once these defaults are applied I often tweak them more.

The nest is distracting and the twig on the right meant I needed to crop tight. If I had a longer lens I would have shot tighter...

Levels adjusted to white out the background and contrast added to make the bird's tones stronger.

The feathers around the chicks neck were also sharpened using Unsharp Mask in Photoshop. Generally I do a couple minutes in Lightroom, and then a couple minutes to reduce the image for posting and add the final adjustments like sharpening in Photoshop.

--50-- / Jon



Q&A: Speedlight Color Shifts

In one of the geekier questions I have gotten in a while, reader Kevin House asked via Twitter how color temperature varies with power levels on speedlights.

The short answer is, it doesn't really vary significantly due to power level differences. But it does vary for other reasons. Read more �


black and white photography

Light Quotations


"Being a photographer is making people look at what I want them to look at." - Ruth Orkin

"The camera is a fluid way of encountering that other reality." - Jerry Uelsmann

"I believe that photography loves banal objects, and I love the life of objects." - Josef Sudek


"...The only advice is to study the best pictures in all media - from painting to photography - and to study them again and again, analyze them, steep yourself in them until they become a part of your aesthetic being. Then, if there be any trace of originality within you, you will intuitively adapt what you have thus made a part of yourself, and tinctured by your personality you will evolve that which is called style.”-- Alfred Stieglitz






"By Interstate 70: a dog skeleton, a vacuum cleaner, TV dinners, a doll, a pie, rolls of carpet....Later, next to the South Platte River: algae, broken concrete, jet contrails, the smell of crude oil.... What I hope to document, though not at the expense of surface detail, is the form that underlies this apparent chaos." - Robert Adams


"Of course, there will always be those who look only at technique, who ask "how," while others of a more curious nature will ask "why." Personally, I have always preferred inspiration to information." - Man Ray

In photography there are no shadows that cannot be illuminated. - August Sander



Find more quotes and writings about photography:

Notes to Myself — For Photography and Living — John Neel

"Art Says" - "Art Does" - "Art Is"

The Present of Photography

Inspiring Originality

Making Bread

And read my other Pixiq posts on many other aspects of digital photography at John Neel


"Rethinking Digital Photography - Making & Using Traditional & Contemporary Photo Tools"

BUY the book at AmazonBarnes and Noble in the USA, Chapters/Indigo in Canada and other fine book stores in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and other countries worldwide.book_cover_v2.jpg 









3d photography

Bathing Beauty

Bathing Beauty by julian sawyer
Bathing Beauty , a photo by julian sawyer on Flickr. I can spend far to much time watching the Gulls in the bay. They are always willing to pose and are ideal subjects for target practice.


still life photographers

Tiny Dead Snakes

My dad called me over to one of our plots of land, as there was some work going on and the workers had apparently spotted tiny snakes. And more. The word 'snake' got me excited and in a hurry I left to the spot. There were, these three tiny snakes (killed by the nasty workers, obviously), each of about 5mm in width and 10-12cm in length. I could not identify them as they were really small, probably hatchlings!

I noticed they had a tiny orange spot on their necks. What could they indicate? Baby cobras? That is one possibility, as the neighbouring villagers recently informed that mating cobras were sometimes seen in the plot of land. Whatever it was, I was pretty sad I couldn't photograph any live snakes.

But wait. There was more. Apart from these tiny snakes, the workers had also spotted and killed three long, slimy, 'worm-like' creatures, about 15mm in width and 30+cm in length. I didn't know what they were, so I took them home, investigated their body structure and facial organs, and came to a conclusion that they were caecilians - a group of legless amphibians, widely spread around the world but rarely encountered or studied due to their burrowing nature. However, I am not gonna post any pictures of the dead caecilians as the images look rather.... ugly. Yes. Apparently the workers (who have got ZERO contextual knowledge and believe ANYTHING they hear in their childhood) instantly and brutally killed them as they were sure that these caecilians were highly venomous snakes that could kill a person within minutes. Well, I had a good laugh at their story.

P.S. Don't worry, a live caecilian is coming right up!


cityscape photographers

Which of these items don't belong?

I'm always amazed at the way some creatures are camouflaged in nature. The disguise is so good that sometimes its hard to see the camouflaged object even when it's right in front of your very eyes.

For example:

Can you find the Greater Anglewing katydid in this picture? (It's a leaf mimic. Hint: look for the legs.)

And how about the tree frog in this picture?

We humans, on the other hand, do a pretty good job of putting things out there that are not the least bit camouflaged and that stick out like a sore thumb. Here's an example of two of the more bizarre bits of discarded waste that I have come across during my trips out and about this year:

Okay, finding beer cans along the edge of the road is not terribly uncommon (unfortunately), but I had never heard of Bud Light with tomato-clam cocktail juice in it before (there's also salt and lime included), so that made this one especially strange. All of these flavors together are apparently "the perfect combination," according to the can. Blech!! Found in rural West Virginia.

Now here's something you don't see every day - the original king of the Dark Side right out in the middle of the woods. Well, his head anyway. Have you figured it out yet?

I rotated the picture 180° so it's not upside down anymore. It's a Darth Vader mask. Hanging upside down in some trees. What in the world?! Found in Scioto County during the Amorpha Borer Beetle expedition.

What kind of odd things have you found while you're out and about in nature?


wildlife photography

Sunday, 30 October 2011

The kindness of birders

Thanks to the kindness of birders, I was lucky enough to be able to see a family of nesting Mississippi Kites within easy driving distance of my home in southeast Ohio this weekend. Birders, in case you haven't already heard, tend to have a reputation for being extremely nice, and helpful, and will do just about anything to help you see a bird. There is a very gracious couple of birders who lives in a small gated community nestled near the Hocking Hills area, and their graciousness was extended out through this community when they opened their gates to approximately 100 outsiders this past Sunday. They opened their arms and welcomed us to see this fantastic spectacle of nature.

Juvenile Mississippi Kite from behind. You'll get a better view in a minute.

The thing that makes this bird species special is that this is currently the only known breeding location in the state of Ohio. Luckily, the birders in this community had a hunch at what they were looking at when a pair of Mississippi Kites raised a family there last year, and word got around in the Ohio birding community. Some other kind birders handled the logistics and arranged a special day to view the kite family last year, and then again this year. I am so grateful for this kindness.

From this angle it may look like jr. kite is eating something, but it's actually just preening.

To give you an idea of how spectacular it is to see this bird breeding in Ohio, I checked the first Breeding Bird Atlas done in the state back in 1982-1987, and it was not even on our radar at that time. Now, that's not definitive proof that it wasn't breeding in Ohio at that time, but in blocks where birders were surveying, they were not even observed. What has changed and brought them to Ohio since then? I don't know. Is it by luck that for two years now these kites have decided to nest in a woody area populated by people who would notice it? Maybe.

This is a reminder that conservation starts right in your own yard. These kites took up residence in a community that, from what I observed, seems to believe in disturbing the land as little as possible, so there is a lot of wonderful, suitable habitat for them to use. Great habitat = great biodiversity. And great biodiversity means you never know what might show up! (And with that in mind, it means you've got to keep your eyes open all the time, just in case something unexpected drops in to stay for a while. Well, I feel that's MY duty, anyway...)

Parental unit coming in with a juicy morsel for the youngster. Look how poised and ready that juvenile is to receive its meal!

The Mississippi Kite's diet is mainly comprised of insects like cicadas and dragonflies. They leave the exoskeleton (or outer shell) behind, only picking out the meat from within. I was amazed to watch bits of cicada wing flutter to the ground as the young one picked its way to the meat of its meal.

Getting ready for the hand-off. As soon as the juvenile kite demonstrates that it's able to feed itself, the family will begin their migration south toward their wintering grounds in central South America.

Birding and blogging friends Susan Gets Native (sitting) and KatDoc (with camera snapping) enjoying the view. This was a life bird for all 3 of us!

The adult takes off after dropping off a bite to eat. It's hard to get an idea of size in these photos, but the average wing span of this raptor is 3 feet (smaller than a Red-tailed Hawk, but larger than a Kestrel, for those keeping track). Notice the rufous, or rust-colored, primary feathers (the "finger tips") that are so nicely back lit by the sun here.

Here the juvenile is begging for food, calling to an adult in the vicinity. One theory being tossed around was that the youngster didn't actually start vocalizing until it had one of the parents within visual range. Speaking of begging behavior, when I was there watching the bird, I noticed it wasn't exhibiting the type of begging behavior I'm used to seeing in songbirds. Songbird youngsters, once out of the nest, will sit on a branch or a wire and peep almost continuously, with their wings puffed out and rapidly fluttering. This is an obvious visual cue to the parents, most likely to gain an upper hand over a nearby sibling who is also exhibiting similar behavior.

"I hear ya, kid. Just hold your horses, dinner's comin'!

Once I started looking at my pictures, though, I realized that while the begging is not as prolonged as a juvenile songbird's, the concept is still the same, as seen here: "I must make myself as large as possible so you know that you are supposed to feed ME!!" There was only one mouth to feed this year (last year's brood consisted of two young), but the instinct remains despite that fact.

This was one of the longer feeding sessions that we got to observe, and it made for great photo opportunities, thus giving me a chance to study field marks in-depth after I got home. Here you can really see the differences in appearance between the adult on the left and immature on the right. Notice the clean white breast and underside of the wings on the adult. Compare this to a chest and underwing area that is very dappled on the juvenile. Also, notice that the tail of the adult is completely dark with no banding (again, we've got a little but of rufous coloring peeking through at the tail tip). By contrast, the immature's tail has very distinct banding.

Once again, my sincere thanks goes out to the kind folks who brought this kite family to the attention of the Ohio birding community, and to those who arranged this get-together for us. It was a very special treat that made my day.


photography institute

Wild Spotted Deer

I was on my way to Mysore, a popular tourist destination in the Karnataka state of India. I was travelling by coach and on the way, we drive through a protected forest. I kept my eyes open, eager to spot and photograph and wild animals. And not too soon later did a group of Spotted Deer appear by the side of the road.

I quickly grabbed as many shots as I could with my 50-200mm zoom lens. This was the first time I was photographing wild deer, although I have seen them before when I was young. Here are a few individuals.

Apparently it seems like these animals were used to seeing cars and people, as they didn't flee the scene. They ignored us and continued grazing by the road.

A few metres ahead, were several more deer, and some had tall and pointed horns, with a frosty covering. I presume those were males. However, I couldn't take any shots as the bus didn't stop.


nature photographers

Cape May - Skimmer Sunrise - Shot Details

I took this one a little after sunrise when the sun hid behind some clouds for a moment.

Cape May - Skimmer Sunrise

Shooting at sunrise (or sunset) really makes for a much better starting point for nice images. The low angle and shadows or side lighting can't be beat. And the warmth of it, and orange light is way better than any mid day light might be.

The bulk of the editing done on this shot were two things. First I cloned out a person that was along the shore and distracted from the light and birds. The eye just wanted to go to it. The second thing I did was to clone out the birds that were partial and along the top edge of the shots. They too seemed to be distracting. There were about 4 or 5 of the bird parts, and the parts you could see weren't enough to make an entire bird out of...

I recently commented that editing (and cloning, etc) for content was something I didn't like or do much. In the case of this image I was ok with it. I don't consider myself a purist on things like this. What ever seems to work or what my eye wants is what I go with. But as a rule I guess, I don't shoot and then edit with a mindset of "hmmm, I wonder which parts I should clone out?" That's not how I shoot/edit. / Jon


learning photography

Long-tailed Tit on the River Tweed

These have to be the cutest of all our birds, whilst walking along the River Tweed near Kelso checking out the tress and bushes to see what was what bird life there was. I heard a small flock of long-tailed … Continue reading


photography book

One heck of a beetle

Recently, I spent a perfect late-summer day in south-central Ohio with some folks who are keen on insects. Eight of us got together in hopes of finding a show-stopper of a beetle that is not well-known in Ohio. Our story starts right here, along the banks of the Ohio River.

Hello over there, Kentucky!

Before I go any further, let me just say that I am thankful that there are other folks out there who are willing to travel a few hours just to see one small insect. Some (okay, many) would call us crazy, and others would call us nerds. These are descriptions we would all agree to with a smile on our faces. Everyone has a special interest or two that makes them happy, and for which they would drive long distances to indulge. For some of us, that special interest is being outside, searching for new and exciting things, whether they be birds, flowers, or insects.

And so, back to our quest. Several hundred yards from the river proper is where we found what we were looking for. And what, exactly, WERE we looking for? Three years ago John Howard stumbled upon a beetle he didn't recognize, and it was very close to this area. John knows his insects, so for him to say he found something that he didn't recognize is saying something. Eventually some photos got posted to, where the knowledgeable folks there identified it as Megacyllene decora, or the Amorpha Borer Beetle. It gets its common name from the Amorpha plant that it bores into in order to lay its eggs.

Amorpha fruticosa, or False Indigo - host plant for the Amorpha Borer Beetle, seen here in flower.

As shown on this map from the USDA Plants Database, the plant has limited distribution in Ohio, occurring in only 5 counties in the southern half of the state (it's slightly more prevalent in northern Ohio, where it has been introduced). One of those southern counties is Scioto County, and that is where we spent our time along the river looking for the beetle. Or maybe I should say The Beetle, capital "T" and "B," since it seems to be a rarity for Ohio, and I'm all about seeing rarities first-hand. I remember reading about The Beetle on Jim McCormac's blog last year, and was delighted to be part of the search party this year. (To read Jim's account of this year's expedition, click HERE.)

I had an idea of what we were searching for, so my pulse quickened when we came across this beetle on late-flowering thoroughwort, Eupatorium serotinum. This, however, is not The Beetle. This is a Pennsylvania Leatherwing, Chauliognathus pensylvanicus, which is somewhat similar in markings to The Beetle, but smaller, and not as brilliantly colored.

Here is the charmer that got us all hootin' and hollerin', Megacyllene decora in the flesh!

This may not look like much, but it is a very large, shrubby late-flowering thoroughwort, a plant which was in abundance, and which is used by the Amorpha borer as a nectar source.

Here you see part of our group gathered 'round in order to thoroughly document and absorb the awesomeness of this cool beetle.

In case you're curious about the scale of things, the beetle is the tiny yellow dot in the middle of the purple flower in the center of this photo. I can't help but wonder how that beetle must have felt to see all of these huge bipeds with third-eye appendages and large flashing lights bearing down upon it.

And now... the star of the show! We decided to pose it on ironweed to provide a nice contrast to it's spectacular coloring.

Megacyllene decora posed on tall ironweed.

The true work of any naturalist, amateur or professional, is to spend time with their subject and observe it. One should make every effort at getting to know it and its habits, even if it is only for a few brief minutes. Being able to catch something as basic and elemental as grooming behavior, as seen here, was a real treat.

I don't know if the beetle really was mad or not, but this close-up certainly makes it look that way to my anthropomorphic sensibilities.

As to its awareness of us, well, it definitely had an eye on us. Being flanked on all sides by cameras held at very close range, we are lucky that this isn't an insect with a more aggressive defense strategy (as in, going for your eyes or squirting flesh-eating fluid from its nether regions). As far as we know, the main thing to fear from the Amorpha borer beetle is being munched by its mean-looking mandibles, but none of us tested those chompers, so I don't know what the real affect would be from that. Regardless, when an insect is eying each of its hunters, as The Beetle appears to be doing here (there was a camera to my immediate right, exactly in line with his gaze in the photo at right), you best not try messing with it!

I can now say that I have observed first-hand the appeal of this beautiful beetle, but the rare nature does beg some questions. While John Howard discovered this stronghold 3 years ago, no one has managed to find more than 2 individuals of this species in this area since the initial discovery. Two questions arise in my mind from this: 1.) Why are there so few of them around (compared to the leatherwings and other insects that we found in abundance)?; and, 2.) Why are they so localized? Well-known bug guy Eric Eaton says he lived in Cincinnati for 11 years and only came across this bug once. Intrepid nature explorers, ALWAYS keep an eye out. I know I will be out and about looking for this beetle next year, hoping to find another population.


photography books