Migrating to Capture One Pro

In the time since I penned Goodbye Lightroom, I first evaluated and then started to use Capture One Pro in a somewhat prolonged migration from Lightroom to Capture One.

During this transition I made notes covering Capture One’s strengths, decisions I had to make to move my photographs from Lightroom’s library to Capture One’s catalog. My hope with the notes was they’d be a good source of information for others like me who want to switch away from Lightroom.

Having drafted those notes into a post and almost hitting publish I realized they would be far more useful on a platform such as Photograhy Life. That post now sits here.

Advertisements

Ricketts Glen State Park

We first visited Ricketts Glen State Park earlier this year in August. Although that visit was aimed at completing the Falls Trail – a 5mi loop that takes you along roughly 20 waterfalls – I still brought my camera along. The trail is easily among the most beautiful in the region. A little into the hike, I was convinced that I’d visit the park again in a few months for some fall photography, and the hike became a scouting trip of sorts.

That fall photography trip to Ricketts Glen materialized in mid-October. This time I was better prepared – a tripod, a sharper lens and a rough plan of the waterfalls to photograph.

Here are three waterfalls that I photographed both times. In each case, the first photograph is from August and the next from October. Despite the fall colors not being great this year, I like the way the photos came out.

Ricketts Glen 1

Ricketts Glen 3

Ricketts Glen 2

Goodbye Lightroom?

Lightroom 6, the last free-of-subscription version, was released in early 2015, over two and half years ago. Its age shows and an update to it has been long overdue. An update came earlier this month, but not one I was hoping for.

Lightroom 6 is discontinued. Its successors are Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic CC. Neither is offered as a standalone version, which is something I prefer for a number of reasons. So naturally, my first instinct was to stick with Lightroom 6 for the next year or more. After all, what ain’t broken need no fixing. But upon further thinking, this option doesn’t seem too feasible.

Apple’s High Sierra came out last month with several under-the-hood changes – a new file-system, a new API, Metal 2, used across the system and more. These made the upgrade to High Sierra a more dangerous affair than usual. With such fundamental, platform level changes in the operating system, complex apps usually need some work before they become rock-stable. I held off upgrading my machine to the point-zero release, instead opting to wait for the point-one or even the point-two release.

In light of Adobe’s announcement, this means when I eventually upgrade to High Sierra, my installation of Lightroom 6 could potentially be rendered unstable or at worst, unusable. My plan is to stick with my setup for now and for the next few months lay the groundwork to make my transition as easily as possible.

  1. Trim my library – Over the years, my library has bloated with unused, out-of-focus and in general low-quality images, mostly because I’m a pack rat loathe to deleting stuff. Whichever software I opt for, a smaller library will be easier to migrate and manage.

  2. Try out software – The next few months, I’m going to be installing trial versions of as many software as I can – Capture One Pro, RawTherapee. I’ll copy over portions of my library into each and see how well my workflow suits them. Is the software capable? Is it performant enough? Do outputs look good? How easy is it to manage a catalog? These are some aspects I want to explore.

  3. Research, research, research – Adobe’s roadmap has left a lot of photographers unhappy and several are exploring other options like me. I expect several posts and blogs reviewing Lightroom alternatives and describing their migration strategies. These will help.

Hopefully by the time macOS 10.13.1 or 10.13.2 is out I’ll have decided my next photography software.

Assateague and Chincoteague

We didn’t have too much trouble spotting the famous wild horses and ponies of Assateague and Chincoteague. Immediately upon entering Assateague State Park, we came across a group grazing beside the road. Long unkempt manes add a dash of careless aloofness to their beauty.

WB_-DSC_1893

WB_-DSC_3215

WB_-DSC_3326

Although Assateague and Chincoteague are famous for these large (controlled) population of wild horses and ponies. I found both island to be a bird photographers dream, despite having visited in not the ideal season. Assateague’s and Chincoteague’s marshes support vast populations of cranes, herons and other wading birds; their proximity to the ocean brings gulls and terns to the refuge; the woods in the area house warblers, thrushes and other small birds; the abundant fish attract raptors like ospreys and eagles. Unsuprisingly we got a taste of them all.

WB_-DSC_1828

A Great Egret making a landing

WB_-DSC_5731

Another Great Egret on the hunt

WB_-DSC_2032

Common Terns abound

WB_-DSC_2649

An Eastern Kingbird

WB_-DSC_2791

A Pine Warbler

WB_-DSC_2910

A Yellow-throated Warbler

WB_-DSC_3005

A Great-blue Heron lifting off

WB_-DSC_3509

Common Tern at the Chincoteague Pier

WB_-DSC_3522

A Double-crested Cormorant basking in the sun

WB_-_DSC4842

The beach at Tom’s Cove is teeming with Sanderlings, scurrying about

WB_-DSC_5639

This Brown Thrasher was very well camouflaged, a hard bird to spot!

Both wildlife refuges support their avian inhabitants with an abundance of seafood. Everywhere we looked a bird was about to dine.

WB_-DSC_2313

For a Common Tern, a catch almost always ends with a chase

WB_-DSC_3995

A rare sight, a solitary Common Tern with its lunch

WB_-DSC_5852

This egret spent a few minutes violently shaking the fish before eating it…

WB_-DSC_5935

The fish wasn’t an easy swallow

WB_-DSC_6092

A Herring Gull

WB_-DSC_4140

Yet another gull (another Herring?) with a crab for its lunch

The best photographs however came in the wee morning hours at dawn on the last day of our vacation. We woke up well before sunrise and drove to Tom’s Cove, a south-east facing beach, in Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge.

I photographed the rising sun with the only lens I had, a 200-500mm telephoto. The sun’s shimmering outline, its flattened reflection on the sea below and the moment of capture – all make it work beautifully for me.

WB_-_DSC5134

Great Egrets are magnificent birds. The warm morning sunlight adds to their magnificence.

WB_-DSC_5199

WB_-DSC_5323

This light morning mist over the swamps and marshes of Chincoteague made for some beautiful scenes. Soft wispy lighting like this is a photographers delight.

WB_-_DSC5407-Pano

WB_-DSC_5527

WB_-DSC_5347

WB_-DSC_5377

WB_-DSC_5580

Horses in the mist

Photography & Exposure – How I Expose

For a long time DSLRs have been sophisticated enough to cleverly expose the scene in front of them. Essentially all DSLRs start by metering the subject, which means they use the in-built lightmeter to determine the intensity of light reflected off or emitted by the subject. The DSLR next calculates the different possible exposures which would bring the subjects intensity to 18% grey.1 Modern DSLRs use sophisticated algorithms to figure out what the subject is – a group of faces, a close-up portrait, a landscape etc. This information helps it fine tune the exposure. For instance if the camera detects one or more faces in the frame, it tends to open the aperture as wide as possible to give a shallow depth of field. Similarly, if the camera detects a landscape shot, it closes the aperture to give as wide a depth of field as possible.

More times than not, this automatic exposure works well. So why should one manually expose? For me there are two motivations – one technical and the other philosophical.

The technical one first. When the photographer doesn’t manually expose, he lets the camera choose the subject. He also lets the camera decide the intensity of the subject, which it slavishly does (remember, the sole driving factor for all automatic exposures is that the intensity of subject should be 18% grey). This transfers creativity from photography to post-processing. During post-processing it’s just not possible to freeze motion, or add motion blur to a background, or simulate a shallow/deep depth-of-fields well. Adjusting the exposure, contrast, editing curves etc. are all the adjustments that can be done to some degree. So, depending on how close the camera exposed the scene to the photographers vision, this post-processing effort could be anything from an impossible feat to zero effort. The photographer should always decide his exposure.

Now for the philosophical motivation – these days DSLRs don’t enjoy the automatic image quality advantage over other camera systems (mirrorless, smartphones etc.) that they used to a few years back. The raison d’etre for a DSLRs existence is the quick manual control it affords to the photographer. On a prosumer DSLR body, all controls are just a fingertip away, allowing the photographer complete and immediate control over all aspects of exposure. If manual exposure is not your cup of tea, why go for a DSLR?


Exposure Modes

Exposure is determined by the Aperture and the Shutter Speed. Exposure, along with ISO speed, or the sensors sensitivity, contribute towards the overall look of the captured image.2 All DSLRs have (at least) 4 modes of exposure control, each mode giving the photographer varying degrees of flexibility and ease to adjust the exposure.3

Programmed Auto(P): The camera evaluates and meters the scene, and comes up with a list of possible, and usually equivalent, exposure values. For example, these are all equivalent exposures:
+ 1/60s, f/5.6 @ ISO 100
+ 1/120s, f/4 @ ISO 100
+ 1/30s, f/8 @ ISO 100
The photographer can step through these exposures and pick the one that gives the best look. For a beginner this mode is useful to get a feel for different exposures and how they affect the final image.

Aperture Priority(A): The photographer chooses an aperture. The camera selects an appropriate shutter speed. This mode is useful when photographing static subjects, where control over the depth of field (deep for landscape vs shallow for portraits) is critical.

Shutter Priority(S): The photographer chooses a shutter speed. The camera selects the right aperture. This mode is useful for photographing sports or other fast moving action where creative control over the look of motion (frozen vs a blur) is important.

Manual(M): This is self-explanatory, the photographer picks both the aperture and the shutter speed.

In all modes, the photographer can either specify the ISO or set it to ‘Auto-ISO’, in which case the camera determines the ISO too.

I started dabbling in photography with a simple point & shoot camera. It gave no direct control over the exposure, one had to play around with different profiles (Overcast/Landscape/Profile/Night etc.) to affect exposure. So, when a friend brought along his DSLR for a vacation and I got to play around with it, I was blinded by power! Its buttons and dials allowed me to change the exposure without taking my eye off the viewfinder, just by using muscle memory.

Pretty soon I had bought my first DSLR, a Nikon D3100. I jumped to manual mode. But after a few outings with it, I realized Aperture priority mode worked better for me. I was getting more and better photographs that way. In retrospect, I can see why that was the case. The D3100 has only one command dial. With it you can change only one parameter – either Aperture or Shutter Speed. To control both quickly meant using one of the external buttons to overrride the command dial. But I was using one already to shift the ISO. So Aperture-priority it was.

A few years later, I added the excellent Fujifilm X100S to my kitty. It is a beautiful small mirror-less camera, with mechanical dials and aperture rings. So none of my motor skills with the DSLR adapted to it. Nevertheless, I got pretty adept at handling it quickly. One of the features I liked most about the X100S is it’s auto-ISO mode, which was more sophisticated than that on the Nikon. Basically, you set a range of acceptable ISO’s and depending upon the aperture and shutter speed that you have set, the camera picks an appropriate ISO. This approach worked well.

I now use a Nikon D500 almost exclusively, with a Nikon D7200 playing the role of a backup body. Both are in the professional to prosumer end of Nikons’ range of DX cameras and have two command dials. This allows me to effectively work in manual mode. Sometimes, depending upon the situation, I use auto-ISO to help me.


For the most part my photography has been restricted to landscapes and events. My method to expose for these underwent considerable change over the years before I settled down on something that works very well for me now.

However, over the past year or so, I’ve been getting more and more interested in bird photography. It is here that my methods are still quite raw and see experimentation.

To quickly switch between these two ‘modes’ I use custom banks on my D500 and the U1/U2 settings on the D7200. The first mode, for static subjects, is fully manual. Both cameras give me quick access to shutter-speed, aperture and ISO without having to take my off the viewfinder. The second mode, for bird photography and other action oriented photography, differs from the first only in that auto-ISO is ON.

Landscape Photography

Over the years my method to expose has evolved. Initially it used to be a simple feedback loop – ‘guess’ the appropriate exposure, take a photo, look at the preview, adjust the exposure, take another photo, check the preview and on and on till the preview looks good. I ignored the lightmeter.

Since this was an iterative process, I ended up taking several photographs with slightly different exposure settings. Besides being time consuming during photography, it also meant greater effort during post-processing – to import and triage. Nevertheless, it was a good learning experience – there is no substitute for experimenting with settings. Playing around with different settings and seeing for myself how they affected the image in the back of my camera helped me get a good handle on the basics of exposure.

The preview on the cameras LCD screen doesn’t really represent the actual exposure, it depends on the quality of the screen, its brightness and the preset that the camera applies to generate the preview. Since I prefer the look of dark, moody images more than bright ones, several times I’d get an image more underexposed than it should have been. I handled this during post-processing, by boosting shadows, but this added noise to the overall image, worsening it’s quality. In retrospect, relying on the camera’s built in LCD screen for judging the exposure just wasn’t a great way to work.

The next stage in my method was to start using the lightmeter in conjunction with Spot or Center-weighted metering. I moved the central focus point (because it is the most sensitive) onto my subject and used the lightmeter to see if it was under or overexposed. Accordingly I made changes to the aperture or shutter-speed as the situation warranted. If light-levels were too low, then I’d step up the ISO. Once I had the exposure and ISO locked, I recomposed and took the photograph. This was a big step forward in my photographic process – I was was using a deterministic approach to arrive at the exposure instead of by trial and error. As I look back at the images I took during this period, the general quality of exposure shows an improvement and the number of edits done in post a reduction from before.

I deviate from this approach sometimes, when the scene has a high dynamic range despite being well lit. My usual approach in such situations would result in a base ISO exposure but with too dark shadows. Pulling them up during post-processing adds noise.

For instance, this was photographed late on an evening around sunset. The sun is low, near the horizon and therefore in the frame, which gives the scene fairly high dynamic range. The camera ends up underexposing the image, since its exposure calculation is dominated by the bright sun.

As metered by the camera.

Here, I’ve brought the overall exposure up a bit and also increased the shadow level in Lightroom.

Shadows brought up in post

A 100% crop of this post-processed image shows the amount of noise that is now apparent.

A 100% crop shows just how much noise there is in this image

This is where Expose-to-the-Right (ETTR) helps.4At base ISO of a camera, to get the least amount of noise in the final image, it is best to maximize the amount of light captured.5 But this is a fine line – let in too much light, and you lose highlights in the image. So the trick is to over-expose as much as possible before clipping the highlights. After having done some tests, I know that on my D7200 and D500 an overexposure by 3 stops can still be recovered in post-processing. Similarly, at the other end, an underexposure of about -3 to -3.5 stops can be recovered before details disappear amongst pure noise. With this knowledge, my aim was to overexpose the brightest parts of my subject by 3 stops. This maximized light capture and allowed me to bring the exposure down in post, reducing noise levels in the overall image.

For instance, this is a scene which suited itself well for ETTR. I overexposed the image by about 2 stops. The captured image looks completely overblown.

Over-exposed by 2 stops, the sky and the marble structure in the center look unrecoverable

In Lightroom, I brought the exposure down by 2 stops and recovered highlights. The image (after a few more adjustments) looks a lot better now.

After having brought down the exposure in Lightroom, it looks much better

A 100% crop of this image shows how little noise there is.

About as clean as it gets

Bird Photography

In bird photography, the subject and conditions typically don’t allow me to work with the same method as before. Birds keep hopping around, move behind bushes, fly into or out of the shade which keeps changing the settings needed for a good exposure. Most of my concentration when photographing birds is on keeping them in focus and in the frame. So, for my exposure I need as much help as possible from the camera.

I manually set the shutter speed and aperture, but use auto-ISO. The shutter speed is set at 1/1000s as baseline so that I can quickly move up or down as dictated by the situation. The aperture is typically set to the widest possible to gather as much light as possible. So in most situations it is only the shutter-speed that I control. Since my focus point is always on the bird (in as much as it’s possible), the camera exposes for it. Therefore to counter it, I dial in an exposure compensation of about +1 stop. More times than not, ETTR doesn’t matter here, since ISOs I’m working with are well above the camera’s base value. Almost all the keepers in my In the Wild series have been captured this way.

Nevertheless, in several situations the camera gets it wrong. The commonest is when the bird is not big enough in the frame and the camera ends up exposing for the background or elements around the bird, resulting in an under- or over-exposed bird. At other times when the bird is itself dark, say a raven or an ibis, the camera again overexposes increasing the ISO to the high thousands.

Here the camera exposed for the snow, this is a recoverable image

Here the camera exposed for the bright sky, this image is unrecoverable

My experiments to nail exposure in these cases continue. Eventually I want to be using complete manual mode for bird photography as well. That requires a lot of experience to ‘know’ the exposure for a given situation and also some nimble camera work on it’s command dials without taking my eye off the viewfinder.


  1. This subject could be a spot, a centered area of the frame or even the entire frame; each of these is a so-called Metering Mode. 
  2. Perspective and quality of light are some other factors, which I don’t talk about in this post. 
  3. I describe the modes on Nikon DSLRs. Canon and Sony have equivalent but perhaps differently names modes. 
  4. Why this holds good only at base ISO is best explained with an example. Let’s say at ISO 100 overexposing by 3 stops requires too high a shutter speed than feasible. So you jump to, say, ISO 400. At this ISO, you’ve lost out on dynamic range and have intrinsically increased noise. Also, depending upon your sensor, it might have been better to underexpose at ISO 100 and raise expose during post. 
  5. Noise is a fiendishly complex topic. At the simplest level, there are two kinds of noise in DSLRs – Shot noise and Read noise. Shot noise is inherent in the light that is captured, while Read noise is that which is introduced by the camera when reading off the sensor. Maximizing light captured improve SNR with respect to shot noise, while lower ISOs help reduce the read noise. This is why ETTR works, overexposing just the right amount at base ISO maximizes SNR and minimizes read noise. Finally underexposing during post-processing reduces any visible noise even further. 

Bombay Hook Wildlife Refuge

When – 3rd and 10th July
Where – Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge

During our John Heinz Wildlife Refuge a fellow (more experienced) birder suggested we visit Bombay Hook Wildlife Refuge in Delaware. Unlike John Heinz, it is remote, located in the countryside. This, and the fact that it is a vast tidal marsh, enables several species of birds and small animals to thrive here. With our enthusiasm for birding quite high from recent successes, we visited Bombay Hook on successive weekends.

A single, unpaved road runs through the refuge. Vast sections of this road are along the many marshes here and it is quite common to just pull over alongside to bird watch or photograph. In some places, there are a few breakaway paths that lead to lookout towers that give a great overview of the marsh.

At this time of the year, in the summer, early mornings and late evenings are the best time for bird photography in wide open spaces. Once the sun gets higher up in the sky, blown highlights and heat haze are some of the problems one has to contend with. Since Bombay Hook is a short drive away from Philadelphia, only about an hour and a half, this allowed us to make early morning visits to the refuge, to get some photos in the soft warm light.

During both visits, we were impressed by the scale of the refuge’s ecosystem. Vast open marshland, teeming with small fish and snails and worms support a huge number of water birds. This photograph perhaps best represents the refuge – in one frame we have egrets, yellowlegs, herons and stilts.

Great Egrets are perhaps the commonest birds here, at least at this time of the year. They keep moving about the marshy plains in small groups. Every so often a few will swoop in from inaccessible areas of the refuge offering great opportunities to photograph them.

Snowy Egrets, distinguished from the Great Egrets by their smaller size, black beaks and yellow feet, are aplenty too.

Great Blue Herons, though fewer in number than the egrets are quite common as well. They seem to be more persistent hunters, and will spend longer on the marshes picking up fish and other critters.

In between the larger wading birds, smaller Lesser Yellowlegs dart about pecking at the shallow water and mud picking up worms and critters.

There are plenty of Avocets too. Their slender upward curved beaks are striking, you can’t miss them. This group of three gracefully flew in and started to swish about the shallow waters with their beaks to feed.

The Black-necked Stilt is a beautiful bird, with a spotless white body and deep black wings. It’s slender legs and narrow beak make a nice symmetry when in flight.

Glossy Ibises too visit the refuge. They are beautiful birds that glisten in the sun, but are deceptively difficult to photograph well. Most of my shots came out underexposed (I wasn’t quick enough to adjust the metering) and I had to pull the shadows in post which added noise. This one though came out quite clean.

Plovers like this Killdeer are abundant too. They tend to feed in big groups of about 10-12 individuals (called a season!). Maybe because of their smaller size, they typically feed around the edges of the marsh where the waters are shallower still and muddier, which sometimes brings them quite close to the drivable path.

With so many birds, and a rich ecosystem, raptors and vultures were bound to be around. Besides the omnipresent Turkey Vulture, we spotted Bald Eagles and a lone Golden Eagle too.

Although Bombay Hook is famous for water birds, it is home to a lot of other species too – marsh wrens, grosbeaks, blackbirds, terns and more. Starting late July (now), the concentration of such birds is expected to increase as more of them start their migration south. We’ll surely be making more trips to Bombay Hook.

Tale of two photos

Every monsoon Kharghar, a scenic node in Navi Mumbai, becomes home to dozens of waterfalls. Most of these can be viewed along main roads, making even short drives a pleasure. We were hoping for such a scenic drive when heading out to Kharghar this weekend.

Sadly, the sight we actually saw was a bit different. Over the years Kharghar’s falls have only grown in popularity and in India it is mostly a bad thing…

What a chaotic mess!

Local municipal authorities are surely well aware of the popularity of this area during the rainy season (if not that is another failure in itself), but they haven’t yet thought of placing a single trash can to collect waste. Building stalls and renting them out to street side vendors to keep the place neat and also generate some money (to maintain the area, not pocket!) has also not crossed their mind.

Of course, the lack of civil responsibility on the part of the public needs to be called out too. Nevermind non-existent trash cans, surely people could abide by the simple rule to pack-out what they pack-in. It’s high time people stop expecting ‘someone’ to always clean up after them.

Traffic discipline is (and has always been) a bane across India. Due to the number of people essentially pulling over on a main road to take in the view, this section of the road is a bottleneck for regular thoroughfare. As is the norm, any traffic hotspot is accompanied by screeching and honking. So much for serenity!

Having pulled over, orderly parking seems too much to expect. Cars, bikes and pedestrians all on criss-crossing paths fight for inches of space.

Indifferent governance and indifferent public. I wish this place never became popular…

Bald Eagle

When – 2nd July, 2017
Where – Peace Valley Park, along the long south-east side

Having spent a very fruitful day at the John Heinz Wildlife Refuge, we planned to spend an evening at Peace Valley Park, specifically in the small shallow swampy pool near the Nature Center. The aim was to photograph some great-blue herons and possibly some other wading birds which we knew roosted here. Little did we know that we’d get to photograph a Bald Eagle, that too in a ‘compromising’ situation.

We arrived at the park late afternoon and parked at the Nature Center. There was just one heron, hunting on the far side of the pool and slowly moving further away. Since it was still quite sunny we figured it would be a little while before more herons arrived. We decided to walk along the trail on the south-east side of the lake hoping to spot some woodpeckers and nuthatches.

It was here, about a half-mile from the bridge and along the trail that we spotted a bald eagle overhead, flying away from the lake. As we walked further, the eagle returned and swiftly flew across the lake towards the woods on the north-west side. We guessed it was shuttling between it’s nest and a possible hunting ground. To test this theory out, we got off the trail and settled at the lakeshore waiting for the eagle fly toward us again.

A short while later, to our delight, the eagle reappeared. I quickly fired off a few shots with my camera. As I was following the action, I saw that the bald eagle was being driven away by a lone kingbird!

These four shots below capture the ‘attack’ best. The tiny kingbird seems to almost be riding the huge eagle, pecking on the back of it’s neck. The eagle, despite it’s fiery yellow eyes has an expression of surprise and bewilderment on it’s face. Whoever thought a mighty Bald Eagle could be chased away by a spunky little bird!

WB_20170702_DSC_6086

Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1000, f/8 @ ISO 400

Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1000, f/8 @ ISO 180

Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1000, f/8 @ ISO 200

Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1000, f/8 @ ISO 200

Bird watching and bird photography are working out a lot like this for me at this stage – since I’m not too well versed with the habitats and the habits of my subjects, I’m almost always in for a surprise. We went to the park to photograph herons strutting about, but instead captured a fine moment between a bald eagle and a kingbird.

John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge

When – 1st July, 2017
Where – John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge

John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge is one of the more popular birding spots near Philadelphia. From the get-go I was sceptical of the richness of this preserve – for one, it is next to the airport and secondly, Google Maps told me that one side of the refuge is along I95, a heavily trafficked interstate.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Early July is not the best time of the year for birding here – it is after the breeding season and before the migratory season. Nevertheless, it was chock full of birds, I got more great shots in one morning here than four at Peace Valley Park. The concentration of water birds in John Heinz is an order of magnitude higher than at peace Valley, which makes it a great place for both birders and bird photographers.

After entering the refuge, we started off on a trail from the visitor center, along I95. This part of the trail is quite wooded and dark. Almost immediately however, there is a smaller trail that breaks away leading into the woods. Here I was able to spot and photograph this beautiful Carolina Wren.

WB_20170701_DSC_4482

Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/2000, f/5.6 @ ISO 4500

A little further along, we heard a ‘throaty’ shriek. Triangulating our way, we found this Catbird with a bunch of insects in it’s beak making those sounds.

WB_20170701_DSC_4549

Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1600, f/5.6 @ ISO 4500

The trail soon opened out into a shallow swampy lake. A Great-blue Heron and a Great Egret were hunting here. A boardwalk with a couple of bird viewing areas crosses the lake. As we were crossing, the egret took off to another end of the refuge. I managed to get these 4 shots of it’s graceful flight.

WB_20170701_DSC_4638

Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/2000, f/5.6 @ ISO 1000


WB_20170701_DSC_4639

Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/2000, f/5.6 @ ISO 800


WB_20170701_DSC_4641

Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/2000, f/5.6 @ ISO 900


WB_20170701_DSC_4650

Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/2000, f/5.6 @ ISO 1600

We spotted these two American Goldfinches as we made our way along the trail.

WB_20170701_DSC_4734

Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/800, f/5.6 @ ISO 450


WB_20170701_DSC_5426

Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1000, f/5.6 @ ISO 560

An experienced birder there, who was waiting for a shy Gallinule to show up, helped me sight this Prothonotary Warbler, a beautiful rare bird.

WB_20170701_DSC_4945

Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1000, f/5.6 @ ISO 2200

The lake is lined with tall grassy reeds, teeming with birds. These Marsh Wren made quite a racket, tiny though they are.

WB_20170701_DSC_5525

Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1000, f/5.6 @ ISO 800


WB_20170701_DSC_5558

Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1000, f/5.6 @ ISO 640

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are here aplenty too. I was able to photograph this one catch a tick before flitting away.

WB_20170701_DSC_5702

Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/800, f/5.6 @ ISO 100


WB_20170701_DSC_5705

Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/800, f/5.6 @ ISO 125

Talking to some other folks there, I had missed out on Gallinules, Bitterns, Ospreys and a Bald Eagle. John Heinz Refuge is definitely on my calendar for another visit during August-September when a lot of waterbirds make their migration south and take a break here.

Blue Jay

When – 11th June, 2017
Where – Peace Valley Park, near the Nature Center

I photographed these Blue Jays along one of the many small intertwined trails around the Nature Center of Peace Valley Park. Despite it being a bright sunny day outside, i was all the time stuck in the upper thousands with my ISO – the thick foliage let very little light through.

This first one is a ‘classic’ bird photo. The jay literally posed for me here.

Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1000, f/6.3 @ ISO 6400

In this photo a jay is doing, what looks like, a breeding dance – it half-spread it’s wings and sang.

Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1000, f/6.3 @ ISO 6400

Cedar Waxwings

When – 6th June, 2017
Where – Shenandoah National Park

I’ve never had much luck photographing birds at Shenandoah National Park. During my previous visit, I only managed to photograph a pair of ravens. This time, I was able to snap a pair of Cedar Waxwings.

This photo was taken in ideal conditions – the sun was not too high in the sky and a few clouds helped give some soft light. My only regret is that the bird closer to me is a bit soft due to the shallow depth of field. Perhaps I should’ve narrowed my aperture some more and risked increasing the ISO.

Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1000, f/7.1 @ ISO 400

Update – Upon further reflection I can’t unsee a major flaw in this photo. I don’t know why I kept the bird on the right (which is further away) in focus instead of the bird on the left. I should’ve reduced my aperture further to get them both in focus or maybe focussed on the bird on the left or perhaps cropped it out.

Great-blue Heron

When – 24th May, 2017
Where – Peace Valley Park, along the North side near the boat ramp

Walking along the trail along the North side of the park, I spotted this Great-blue Heron gracefully glide over the lake and land on a rickety wooden pier. While patiently waiting for it to hop into the water and start hunting (alas, it never did), I snapped these two shots.

In the first shot, the heron is awkwardly hopping off the rails of the pier – putting it’s best foot forward.

Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/2000, f/5.6 @ ISO 180

After basking in the sun for a bit, the heron quickly gathered itself and flew away. I managed to get a shot of it while it’s wings were down. The curled up wingtips add to the beauty.

Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1000, f/5.6 @ ISO 320

Cooper’s Hawk

When – 14th May, 2017
Where – Peace Valley Park, South-west corner

As we walked along the trail, in a clump of trees near the dam at the south-west corner of Peace Valley Park, there was a flurry of activity. A lot of small birds were loudly chirping and jumping between branches. Upon sneaking closer, we saw that it was a Cooper’s Hawk quietly sitting on a branch that had the others agitated. Despite the heavy shade, and overcast skies, I managed to take a decent photo of it through the foliage.

Nikon D7200, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1000, f/5.6 @ ISO 5000

Further along the trail, on the far side of the dam, this Brown-headed Cowbird struck a nice pose.

Nikon D7200, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1000, f/5.6 @ ISO 1600

European Starlings

When – 7th May, 2017
Where – Peace Valley Park, near the Nature Center

Spring was truly in the air. After a pretty luckless day at Peace Valley Park, on our way out we spotted these two European Starlings having a go at it. I managed get a sequence of 5-6 shots, of which this one framed both of them the best.

Nikon D7200, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/800, f/5.6 @ ISO 100