Last light on fox

October 8th, 2010 1 comment

With all wildlife subjects I’ve photographed, Red Fox is one of my all time favorites.  They are very smart and witty.  More often, they can outsmart me.  It doesn’t matter what I do to conceal myself.  The fox always knows that’s a foreign object.  

This spring I was fortunate enough to locate a fox’s den over the hill behind a residential home in the countryside.  The forest was very dense, so it was very difficult to get a good light and a fast shutter speed to freeze the movement. 

I put on my camouflage clothes and sat quietly against a tree. For hours as I waited, the fox didn’t come close enough.  Just as the sun was setting behind the hill, the female fox came back with food to feed her youngsters.  She sat over the hill covered with moss right in front of me.  The light was on her perfectly. 

I carefully rested my hand on the top of my lens in an attempt to stabilize any vibration – this technique is called long lens technique (or LLT).  The shutter speed was 1/10sec even with ISO setting at 1000 ISO – I could have gone higher with my camera ISO, but then I would have had to sacrifice details and add much noise in my image.  I held my breath as I pressed my shutter button.  I took eight shots, three of which were on focus.  The fox moved off quickly as soon as she spotted me.  But it was one of those incredible moments in my photography experiences.

Categories: Photo Shooting, Wildlife Tags:

Flowering Dogwood

September 30th, 2010 1 comment

After several sleepless nights because of my newborn baby, I was able to get out just in time to photograph these flowering Dogwood.  This Missouri state tree has such elegant flowers that I always wanted to produce good images of them.

I found that the Lake of the Ozark State Park located in Osage Beach always has a show of flowering Dogwood during springtime.  I arrived at the location well before sunrise and searched for a potential area, because I like to “really” spend time studying my subject to better understand it.  Normally, I would prefer to photograph flowers, especially white flowers like Dogwood, in overcast condition, but I decided to break my rule. Flowering Dogwood

I took this image at sunrise with a 70-200mm lens set a zoom at 150mm.  I framed it very carefully and waited until the light hit the top of the tree.

Flowering DogwoodAfter that I decided to try with a 600mm super telephoto lens (another 14 pounds to carry) to isolate the subject from the background.

Flowering DogwoodThis image was taken with my 17-40mm wide angle at 28mm.  I laid on my back pointing my lens straight up to the flowers with clear blue sky as the background.

Categories: Photo Shooting, Scenery Tags:

Baby girl, Eva

September 29th, 2010 4 comments

Baby EvaI know I have been absent from my blog for a (long) while. 

On March 25th, a beautiful girl arrived in our family.  When I first laid my eyes on this beautiful baby, my world stopped.  And some people might know that my wife had major complications during labor.  Every child birth is a miracle, but our little girl required a little more attention from medical staff and a little more blessing.  

Since then my life as I know it has changed forever, but I treasure every second with her.  She is my precious precious little girl.  I think this is also a good thing since now I have time to really exam my career and think about a new direction of my photography.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Facebook Fan Page

September 9th, 2010 3 comments

logo_facebookFollow me on Facebook (Click the Facebook image here).

While I keep my blog to post more technical aspect of my job or longer post (although I haven’t updated my blog for a while…), I’ll update my Facebook page as frequent as possible with my current projects or events.

Categories: General Tags:

“Save the Last Dance” mock-up book

June 20th, 2010 No comments

I’ve been pursing this book project for more than 8 years.  My main goal is to publish an in-depth book with captivating images so this species can receive attention and support they deserve and desperately need.

The book will not only tell the story of these birds’ habits and behaviors, but also convey a sense of why these species are worth caring about, why they are threatened and what is being done about it.

Currently I’m looking for sponsors who can help with the cost of publishing.

Here is a mock-up book to show my ideas and showcase images.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Dream comes true – photographing River Otters

January 20th, 2010 49 comments

River Otter

After waiting a number of days for dense fogs to clear up, I decided to go check my favorite wetland area not too far from my house.  I was cruising around the area searching for waterfowls without much expectation, when I spotted a River Otter sitting on the ice.  However, before I could even pull my gear out of bag, it went underwater.

I’ve always dreamed of photographing River Otters in winter.  So, missing an opportunity to photograph a River Otter on the ice was very frustrating.  After kicking myself for not being prepared, I sat quietly inside my vehicle hoping to get a glimpse of it again.

Hours passed, and I finally spot not just one, but five River Otters.

Camera SetupI covered my car window in camouflage and sat quietly inside the vehicle.  The otters approached with caution but later presumed their daily activities.  After years of photographing wildlife, my gut told me that this was going to be once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

My choice of lens was Canon 800mm f/5.6 IS and 1.4X teleconverter, which allowed me to get a lot closer than 600mm or 500mm.  Besides, 800mm lens is very sharp even when used with 1.4X teleconverter.  River Otters have high contrast with darker coat, so overcast light didn’t hurt.  I over-exposed by +1 ½ stop over a camera normal recommendation.

Several times the Otters came so close as it caught a fish underwater and brought to the ice to feed on.   The light wasn’t great, but it was a unique opportunity to capture a close-up of River Otters hunting, socializing, and playing in front of me all morning.

Actually it was a dream come true in the most unexpected bad weather.

River Otter

River Otter

River Otter

Categories: Wildlife Tags:

Photographing winter birds

January 10th, 2010 No comments

Northern Cardinal

Snow and cold weather bring some of the most unique wildlife photography opportunities, since most of wildlife have to concentrate their efforts on searching for food and enduring the severe weather.  As eager as I am to photograph them, I am very careful in approaching them during these harsh times.  I believe no image is worth putting wellbeing of my subjects in danger.

Fox SparrowDuring the heavy snowstorm in early January, I located a spot in the field nearby my house where many birds feed on leftover gains.  I sat my photo blind across the area.  I didn’t have to wait long before more than 20 Northern Cardinals and a few dozens of various birds showed up.

The temperature was in minus with wind chill as low as -30F.  All birds puffed up their feathers to keep the heat inside, which made them to appear bigger than they actually are.  That’s why I always prefer photographing birds in early spring and winter.

Northern CardinalWhen photographing something less than 18% gray especially snow, I overexpose by +1/2 to +1 depend on the subject.  For a Northern Cardinal, I normally give +3/4 exposure, so it won’t blow too much highlight of the bird’s bright red feathers.

Categories: Wildlife Tags:

Sneaky Mink

December 30th, 2009 2 comments

I’ve wanted to photograph Mink ever since it had snuck up on me about 2 years ago.  It literally ran between my feet while I was sitting in my hiding spot.  Not only it was rare to spot a wild Mink, but also it was highly unlikely that this shy animal ran right towards me.

MinkA funny thing is that it always seems to have a mischievous grin on its face.

So, one day when a biologist informed me a spot where a Mink had been regularly spotted, I was quite excited about the chance to photograph them.

Many times (or most of times) successful capturing of wildlife images depend on how much you know about the species.  So I did my research trying to learn about their eating habits, living environments, etc. as much as possible.

The American Mink (Neovison vison) is a North American member of the Mustelidae family found in Canada and most of the United States.  It is related to Weasels, and Otters.  Just like their cousin, Otters, Minks are particularly fond of crayfish and spend most of time in the water searching for food.

As with any other wildlife, it wasn’t easy to photograph a Mink.  It moved quite fast and constantly between water and land.  In addition, its small body was well blended with the environment, which made it difficult to keep track while looking through my camera viewfinder.

After spending some time watching how Mink moved around, I found a temporary burrow or a tunnel, where it would carry the food in and out.  So, I sat and waited.  As I predicted, the Mink immerged from its burrow with surprise expression of its face.   I only had few seconds to capture this before it retreated back inside.Mink

With such a shy species like Mink, my choice of lens is a Canon 600mm with a 1..4X teleconverter.  I prefer ISO setting at 800, which gives me a shutter speed at 1/250 sec for the early morning light to stop any movement of the Mink.   If the light improves, I may change it to 400 ISO.  Most new digital cameras now have a good capability of high ISO.

Categories: Photo Shooting, Wildlife Tags:

Problems of shooting panorama and solutions I found 1

November 21st, 2009 2 comments

Leveling tripod and camera

For months I’ve been focusing on panorama photography.  I have discovered several problems and solutions to solve them.

First, leveling tripod and camera was one of the biggest problems. A conventional way is to level the tripod perfectly with a leveler spirit (assume that you have a ball head in your tripod), and then level the camera.  The whole process is painstakingly slow and could take several minutes.  Now, imagine after all those troubles, you just discovered the height of the camera is too low and you need to move to a different angle.  Believe me, I’d been there and done that many times – it is frustrating and time-consuming.

The solution?  I found that Really Right Stuff PCL-1 Panning Clamp makes my panorama photography a lot easier and allows me to concentrate on taking good images.  All I have to do is to find the right angle and set my tripod and level the panning camp with the built-in level spirit).

Camera mounted on Really Right Stuff panning head PL-1

Camera mounted on Really Right Stuff panning head PL-1

Problems of shooting panorama and solutions I found 2

November 21st, 2009 2 comments

The problem of shooting on a perfectly level platform is that many times angle of view can be very restricted to the lens you use.

For example, let’s say I want to include more sky or some of fog below the mountain horizon.  I can’t do it because I would no longer have a perfect level, and therefore the degree of my view starts to shift upward or downward, which makes it difficult if not impossible to stitch images later.

You might argue that I could use a wide-angle lens and crop the image later after merging images.  The problem with that method is that you will get a lot of distortion and have to do a lot of cropping later, which reduces the resolution of the image.

Whenever I shoot panorama, I prefer between 50mm-200mm range lens to avoid distortion and to shoot it vertically, so I will have more images to merge together, which will produce a higher resolution panorama.

Camera with Cannon TS-E 45mm tilt and shift lens

Camera with Cannon TS-E 45mm tilt and shift lens

Both Nikon and Canon have a “Tilt & Shift” lens from 17mm (Canon only) – 90mm – Canon: TS-E lens (Tilt & Shift for EOS),  Nikon: PC-E (Perspective Control Lens).  It is a unique lens that allows a photographer to correct point of view by tilting and swinging the front of the lens, or by rotating and moving it up or down.

I found a Canon 45mm TS-E to be a perfect lens for my panorama photography.  I could shift the lens upward and downward (+ / – 11 degree) without having to move the camera up or down.  Therefore, I could include more sky or foreground below with a correct perspective.

McWay Cove Fall (Big Sur, California) is a good example.  The place where I was standing was way too high to have a perfect horizon in panorama.  If I were to shoot with a conventional lens, I would not be able to include waterfall below.  With the tilt & shift lens, I was able to include the waterfall and the sky as in the image.  One thing to be careful is to take a exposure reading (in manual exposure) before tilting or shifting the lens, or you will get an incorrect exposure due to lens barrel shifting the light to the camera sensor/film.