Rose-breasted Grosbeak

When – 30th April, 2017
Where – Peace Valley Park, along the North side trail near the Nature Center

This Rose-breasted Grosbeak was handsomely posing for us on a branch very close to the trail. I managed to get a few shots before it flew away, the one below is perhaps the best of the lot. The Grosbeak has a nice pose and expression, my only regret is the rather poor lighting which resulting in quite high an ISO.

d7200, 200-500mm | 1/1000, f/5.6 @ ISO 3200

Spring brought a whole lot of Catbirds with it – at Peace Valley Park, Catbirds challenge Robins in gross population count now. As we walked along the trail, I snapped a photo of this catbird lunging at a fruit. I’m pleased with this photo too – it captures a fleeting moment nicely.

Nikon D7200, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/800, f/5.6 @ ISO 4500

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

I photographed this Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in mid-May in Peace Valley park. It was great day, warm and sunny, which meant we saw a lot of birds darting about above us. The gnatcatcher is an extremely skittish bird, so I’m quite pleased with myself for having captured this pose. Nevertheless, it is a rather boring photo.

NikonD7200, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1000, f/5.6 @ ISO 100

In this next photo I was (luckily) able to capture it in mid-air with it’s wings spread out, a strikingly good pose. The bird is slightly blurred out and a faster shutter speed would have definitely helped. Despite that, I love this photo. The pose, the colors both work very well for me. So much so, this was my phone wallpaper for quite long.

Nikon D7200, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1000, f/5.6 @ ISO 360

This photo was taken moments after the one above. After having landed on the branch, the gnatcather paused for a brief moment which let make this sharp image. The exposure this this photo is exactly the same as earlier, which means I get the same beautiful colors. But the pose is not quite as dramatic.

Nikon D7200, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1000, f/5.6 @ ISO 360

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon is one of the many such canyons in the Page, AZ area, but easily the most famous. These canyons were formed over time as fast-flowing rain water eroded the sandstone in the area, giving the inner walls of the canyon their characteristic ‘flow’.

Antelope canyons’ bright orange and red sandstone, reflecting overhead sunlight forms the beautiful shapes this place is so famous for. To the eye of a photographer an abstract composition awaits at every turn, but the darkness, broken only by bright shafts of sunlight and sometimes a sliver of blue, make capturing this beauty a challenging task. These canyons are simultaneously a photographers dream and nightmare.

The canyons are divided into two, the Upper and Lower canyons, of which the Upper are more easily accesible and hence more popular (and therefore more crowded). Either canyon is accessible only through guided tours which are conducted by a few authorized groups. We booked our visit of the Upper canyons through Navajo Tours for exactly noon to get the best overhead light. While ours was a regular Sightseer’s Tour, they offer a longer Photography Tour as well which presumably will take you to the less frequented sections of the canyon.

On the designated date, upon arriving at the pick-up point and ‘checking in’ (i.e. making the payment for the reservation, in cash!) we were assigned our guide. After a short drive through a dusty stretch of unpaved road, in an open buggy, we were at the canyon entrance. The tour is basically an hour long walk from the entrance to the far end of the canyon. During this stretch, your guide points out the more popular sections of the canyon, sections that would interest the average tourist – some protrusions from the canyon walls that look like faces, or some others that resemble Monument Valley buttes for instance. From the far end back to the entrance is literally a sprint, with your guide constantly hurrying you on. Since the tour guides want keep each tour within its time limit, they don’t take too kindly to people who stop to take photographs on this walk back.

For the amateur photographer such as myself, a few observations I made will probably help. The canyons are a very dusty place – it’s basically fine sand which gets everywhere, so if you have a weather sealed body take it. In fact, it’s so dusty that you are better off taking a wide angle prime lens, instead of one that zooms just to avoid having it suck some dust inside. Don’t even think of changing your lens in or around the canyons. Coming to the photography itself, it’s a multi-pronged challenge:

  1. It is fairly dark within the canyon, your ISO will be quite high which makes it hard to get clean images. If you shoot on Auto, I suspect the ISO will be around the 6400 mark
  2. When sunlight does break through, it does so forming shafts due to the dust within. In such places the dynamic range of the scene is very high. On high ISOs, you lose dynamic range.
  3. Since the canyon walls are so close, in most compositions you will need more depth of field than you think. On a crop body something around f/5.6 works well. This doesn’t help with (1) and hence (2).
  4. Slowing the shutter speed seems like the obvious choice, but if you take the Sightseer’s Tour you can’t have a tripod with you and the crowd will not make it easy to shoot at slow shutter speeds hand-held.

For the photos in the gallery below, the baseline exposure that I used was 1/30, f/5.6 @ ISO 1250. Depending upon the situation, I moved one or more of these numbers around.

Osprey

I photographed this Osprey on a cloudy afternoon in Peace Valley. After having roamed about for a couple of hours photographing some grackles, robins and blackbirds I was lucky to spot this bird on my way out. Very close to where we had parked (near the boat-ramp on the south-west end of the lake), the osprey was making a few dives trying to catch fish.

This first photograph shows the osprey having leveled off, flying past me after a failed attempt. I’m very pleased with this photograph. It’s sharp and the fierce eyes and talons of the bird are both clearly visible too.

D7200, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/2000, f/7.1 @ ISO 900

In this photo I was able to capture it’s moment of attack. I have mixed feelings about this photo – it captures the action well with the osprey’s wings and talons outstretched. But its not sharp enough and perhaps a slightly faster shutter speed would’ve captured the splash better.

D7200, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/2000, f/7.1 @ ISO 1250

Next, I got a good shot of the Osprey lifting off (sadly away from me) with it’s catch. I think this is a beautiful shot. The bird, it’s catch and a few drops of water falling off on the bottom left are all tack sharp. That the background is two-tone adds to it’s look. The raw image quality of the photo is great too – I’ve got a couple of different edits already.

D7200, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/2000, f/7.1 @ ISO 900

A couple of crows which were perched on a nearby tree spotted the Osprey with it’s catch and started to circle it, trying to get some free lunch. I managed to get a decent shot of it too. Like some of the others in the series, I love this one too. The osprey with it’s wings outstretched looks majestic, with the crow in the background greedily eyeing the fish.

D7200, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/2000, f/7.1 @ ISO 720

The last photo I got of the Osprey is probably the best of the lot. After having warded off crows, the osprey made a final pass of Galena Lake before flying off to it’s nest in the far nort-east corner of the lake. This is easily among my best bird photographs – it’s tack sharp with the osprey and the fish clearly visible. I’ll likely be spending a lot of time on edits before printing this sometime.

D7200, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/2000, f/7.1 @ ISO 720

After going back home, I was able to merge a sequence of 10-12 photos into one to show the dive. Unfortunately, my editing skills were not quite up to the mark, the different background colours for each image (due to slightly different ISO) shows through.

Hunt Sequence

Death Valley National Park

Our itinerary for this year’s Memorial Day vacation took us through Death Valley National Park. Due to the intense heat and the summer season, there very few visitors which made the park’s stark beauty all the more enjoyable.

Death Valley-1

We started off from Las Vegas, so entered the park from its north-eastern entrance. Our drive through it took us first to Dante’s View Point. The drive up to this point is steep and has several sharp hairpin bends. It is deceptive too, in the sense that the road leading to it doesn’t give any clues to the vista in store from the view point. To call the view from here awesome would be an understatement.

Death Valley-2

Death Valley-3

Next, we drove over to Zabriskie Point. The view from here is typically a photographers dream around sunset when the setting sun lights it up in orange and pinkish hues. When we got here it was noon, nevertheless it is a beautiful view.

Death Valley-13

Death Valley-14

Death Valley-15

Death Valley-16

Death Valley-17

Death Valley-18

After a long drive along the base of Black Mountains (atop which Dante’s viewpoint is) and a shorter offroad drive, we got to the Devil’s Golfcourse – a lumpy salt pan. Jagged sharp edges outline each lump of ‘rock’ here – these rocks are actually crystallized salt.

Death Valley-22

Death Valley-23

Death Valley-24

Death Valley-25

We then drove through the curvy roads of Artist’s Drive. This is a scenic byroad that drives into the foothills of the Black Mountains – again, the beauty here lies in the starkness of the environs and the colorful palette with which these mountains are painted.

Death Valley-28

Death Valley-29

Death Valley-30

Death Valley-31

Death Valley-32

Death Valley-33

Death Valley-34

Death Valley-35

After taking short break at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, we drove on to the Mesquite Sand-dunes. From afar these dunes appear quite small, but as you near them the scale becomes apparent.

Death Valley-36

Death Valley-38

 

Death Valley-40

During this vacation, Death Valley was almost a side-trip, an excursion during a long drive. But it’s scale (it is the largest national park outside of Alaska in the U.S) and beauty definitely warrant a longer visit. The bare minimum I saw was enough to catapult this national park into my list of favorites. Another time, Death Valley National Park…hopefully sooner than later.

Tree Swallow

During spring and summer the most common bird around Lake Galena in Peace Valley Park is the Swallow. I photographed this pair in the south-west end of the lake. The individual in flight was constantly in air, hovering around its partner which gave me several opportunities to capture their dance.

D7200, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/640, f/8 @ ISO 220

This is among my favorite photographs, one that I’ve already printed. Everything about it works for me – the composition, the sharpness, the exposure.

White-tailed Nuthatch

On a sunny but cool day, I photographed this White-breasted Nuthatch along one of the trails in the north-east end of Peace Valley park. Since the Nuthatch spent almost all the time hopping about (upside down) the base of this tree, I initially thought it was chick woodpecker unable to fly. It was only later, after referring to my trusty app that I got informed otherwise.

D7200, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1000, f/7.1 @ ISO 640

Despite having a clear shot at the bird I feel I messed the exposure up. Because of way I exposed it to the highlights, I ended up having to lift the shadows up way too much. ETTR would have worked better.

Sparrow

I photographed this excited Sparrow heralding the coming of spring on an early-April afternoon, in the north-east corner of Peace Valley park. Despite the overcast, cold weather spring was in the air – green buds, chirping birds and more.

D7200, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1250, f/5.6 @ ISO 560

I like this photograph, despite the distracting twigs in the foreground it came out well. The exposure is good, the bird is sharp and it captures the sparrows singing nicely.

Black-capped Chickadee

This Black-capped Chickadee was flitting about excitedly, hopping across branches and nibbling at every bud around. Photographed in early April, spring was in the air and the Chickadee could definitely sense it.

D7200, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1600, f/5.6 @ ISO 2500

I like this photo, mostly because of the Chickadee’s endearing somersault. I wish the image were cleaner though – despite shooting at ISO 2500, I had to pull shadows up quite a bit adding to the already present noise.

Northern Flicker

This Northern Flicker was photographed in Peace Valley. As we were walking back to our car, I spotted the bird on top of a bare tree across an open grassy field.

D7200, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/800, f/5.6 @ ISO 320

I like that it is a well exposed photo. The Flicker is a beautiful bird, with a distinct shape but it doesn’t show up too well here since there isn’t much detail in the photo. This is entirely due to my lacklustre sneaking skills, as I carefully(in my mind) closed in on the Flicker, it flew off.

American Robins

Photographed the same day as the previous Robin, each individual in this pair was mirroring it’s partner which made for a nice performance.

D7200, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/800, f/5.6 @ ISO 1800

Compositionally perhaps a square crop would have worked better (I couldn’t do it here since one of the birds is in a corner and cropping this would have brought the poorer edge quality to the fore). Also, I wish I’d narrowed the aperture down to get a greater depth of field. I like however that the image is clear and relatively noise free despite the high ISO.

American Robin

On a rainy day, as we were ambling through Peace Valley park I came across this Robin that had hopped down from a branch above to get a drink from a shallow puddle. In this photo it looks like its staring at it’s reflection.

D7200, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/800, f/5.6 @ ISO 3200

Although a good photo, I’m not quite satfisfied with it. On the technical front, I should’ve dropped the shutter speed down to around 1/320 or 1/400 and gotten a lower ISO. Compositionally too something is missing – the image isn’t pleasing to my eyes. I’ll probably be returning to this photo for experimenting with some more edits.

Eastern Phoebe

Shot in Peace Valley on a dull overcast afternoon, this Eastern Phoebe was sitting still, looking forlorn.

An Eastern Phoebe @ Peace Valley | D7200, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1000, f/8 @ ISO 1600

The lack of colour in the shot, the birds’ quiet posture overall make it a fairly dull shot. I’m nevertheless pleased that it came out sharp.

American Robin

Robins are perhaps the commonest birds around here. I can’t count the number times I’ve spotted something move from the corner of my eye to realize it is another Robin. This particular bird was rather brave, instead of flying away from us it simply hopped about, maintaining a constant distance from us.

WB_DSC_5713

An American Robin @ Peace Valley | D7200, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1000, f/8 @ ISO 450

I love this photograph, definitely a keeper. For me the framing, the colors and the exposure are just perfect. If I could change one thing about it, it would be the perspective – I wish I’d been a bit lower while taking the photo.