Sunday, May 19, 2019

Some Macro Play - 19 May 2019

The birds were not cooperating this morning. I did see a Red-eyed Vireo out back, but that was it. So, I decided to grab the Sony FE 2.8/90 Macro G OSS lens and a6300 and take some pics around the yard.

A large ant swarm in front of the garage turned out to a war between rival Red Ant colonies. Everyone was locked into killing each other. Or, hopefully, a rugby match.

This Strawberry flower was created using focus-stacking from 15 images.

This one was from five images.

A lovely Dandelion.

Some fuzz.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Micro-Moments - 16 May 2019

The Biggest Week in American Birding Festival ended yesterday. The festival celebrates a week of frenetic bird-watchers chasing frenetic birds (warblers, mostly) as they frenetically fuel up for their final trips to breeding grounds. Anyone who attends festivals like this one will tell you how physically exhausting they can be. And for good reason; activity is non-stop! 

Photographers will shoot thousands of frames, hoping to capture a few sharp images of these non-stop migrants. When you think about it, they are simply trying to capture micro-moments in the life of a bird. At shutter speeds of 1/1000 sec these moments are literally milliseconds in the life of a bird. And we photographers go to great lengths to freeze these moments in time.

The images I managed to capture came a day after the festival ended. The festival was gone, but the birds, and the crowds, remained despite the cold, wet, rainy weather. The warblers were low, but not slow. Catching them required fast focus and fast shutter speeds. I was shooting the Sony a9 with the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens and 1.4TC mostly at 560 mm. Focusing mode was set to Expand Flexible Spot with back-button focusing. A Godox 860ii-S flash was attached to a Vello flash bracket and fired using a Godox X1Ts flash trigger operating in radio mode. I set the camera to ISO 3200 and shot in TTL mode so that I could shoot high-speed sync (HSS). This way I could maintain fast shutter speeds and make use of ambient lighting as much as possible. The resulting fill-flash helped to illuminate the birds in brightly backlit conditions. A short-coming of the Sony a9 is that the camera slows to only 5 fps in mechanical shutter mode when using a flash. A benefit is that I had tons fewer images to review/delete.

I was extremely happy with how the Sony a9 / Godox flash combo handled the extremely variable lighting conditions. Exposures were largely spot-on, or easily adjusted in Lightroom. The flash unit did not always fire during the continuous bursts, but enough to get several bright frames during a burst.

The past few weeks of cold, wet weather did help to slow the foliage development along the boardwalk at Magee Marsh. But, leaf-out was sufficient to provide cover for the warblers as they foraged at eye-level. Who knows how many branches / leaves foiled that "perfect" moment. 

Some great birds were seen during festival, including up to 5 Kirtland's Warblers and an amazing Townsend's Warbler! All of my birds were pretty much expected this time of year, but I wasn't complaining. Each and every one of them were stunners. And a joy to photograph.

I can't say that I had a favorite bird, but I certainly enjoyed seeing the Cape May and Magnolia Warblers, and even the Blue-winged Warblers. The Scarlet Tanagers were stunners, as were the Blackburnian Warblers. But, I have to say that the extremely common Yellow-rumped Warblers have been somewhat of a nemesis bird when it comes to getting nice pics, so I really enjoyed catching some stunning males in their tuxedos.

Till next year.

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