Manual vs. Auto – Questions answered


I am not really a teacher, but I think I am qualified to correct several misconceptions.  Many newbies and some experienced at photography, including some of my friends,  believe that if you change your camera settings from AUTO, that you will be shooting manual.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.  To be shooting in manual, you have to set your camera to the M, which is true manual.

Okay, let’s see what you are getting into if you decide to shoot in M (MANUAL).  First you have to measure the light, so you can decide on your shutter and aperture settings.  How do you measure the light?  You can use the built-in light meter in the camera.  Aim the camera at a neutral scene, or the palm of your hand, or a gray card, or at the blank blue sky about 90 degrees away from the sun.  Any of these can give you recommended settings for your shutter speed, and aperture, depending on how you have set your ISO.

ISO??  Yep, your camera meter needs to know about your film (or digital sensor) speed.  You can pick from a number between 100 and 6400, (most cameras.)  So after you obtain the settings recommended by the meter, then you have to know how to change the settings in the camera.  Your manual should show you how to do that.

If the recommended shutter speed is to slow or fast for your liking, then you can adjust, but then you have to re-adjust your aperture setting to compensate.  Remember,  Aperture means how much light you should let in, and Shutter Speed means for how long a time period that you want to let that light.  If you change Aperture to a large opening, you have to cut down on the time, so you go to a faster shutter speed to compensate.  You will still end up with proper exposure for the picture.

Now after all of this work, do you really want to shoot “MANUAL”?  I don’t think so.  After spending hundreds or thousands of dollars for a modern camera designed to make the job easier, why would you want to.  Heck, count me out.  But I do have the basic knowledge if I ever need to.

I began shooting seriously about 60 years ago, when I took a course through the New York Institute of Photography.  Then, manual was the only way to go.  Ugh!  It was work.  But it made me a better photographer as I learned the basics.  Cameras were all manual, except some had a built-in meter to measure the light.  Otherwise, you used a hand-held light meter.

Now with the modern camera, shooting AUTO is for the beginner, who is unfamiliar with the settings, and/or who just want to get pictures easier until they learn more.  There is nothing wrong with that.  The camera is designed to give you good photographs that way.  But you will get good photos only under ordinary conditions.

So getting back to changing from AUTO, I believe most individuals who turn that dial away from AUTO, think they are shooting in manual, when they are really not.  Most usually go to Av  (aperture priority), or Tv (Shutter priority).  One of these modes is what most photographers, including pros, shoot.  But, circumstances can come up where they need to know how to use the true Manual.  But please know, that just because the dial doesn’t say AUTO, doesn’t mean that you are shooting in Manual.

So let’s get back to changing from AUTO to one of some other settings.

ISO – set the camera between 100 and 6400, or Auto, in most cameras.  The higher the number, the more sensitive the film or digital sensor is to light.  If you set the ISO to Auto, you don’t have to worry.

P (Program)  (EDITED AFTER INITIAL PUBLICATION.)  This is nearly Auto, but you have a bit more control.  You can change the Aperture, and the Shutter automatically changes to the right speed.  The same if you change the Shutter, the Aperture will automatically change to the correct opening.

Av (Aperture Priority).   You set the aperture manually that you want, the camera will read the light and give you the right shutter speed.

Tv (Shutter Priority).  You set the shutter speed manually that you want, and the the camera will read the light and give you the right aperture.

There are other settings on some cameras to make things easier, too.  These are actually more Auto settings, but you can make adjustments if you need.

- A little flower symbol means macro or close-up photography.

- A running man symbol indicates fast action.

- A mountain or trees symbol indicates landscapes or scenics.

I rarely shoot in full Manual anymore.  Personally, when I am shooting birds, I shoot in Tv (Shutter Priority) with the ISO on auto most of the time.  Why??  Because if I shot in Manual, I wouldn’t have the time to measure the light and make the right settings.  By then it would be supper time and the birds would be gone. (Well, that may be an exaggeration.  But it would take more time.)

By shooting Shutter Priority, I know that will I have a high enough shutter speed to catch the action if the bird takes to flight.  I usually set the shutter at about 1/1600 of a second average.  Difference in light can dictate what figure I use.

If it is a really bright day, I may shoot Aperture Priority.  By setting my camera to a real large aperture opening, I will be assured that the camera will give me a fast shutter speed.

There are other fine tuning adjustments that can be made as you go, like adjusting the EV (exposure value), for darker or lighter situations, but that may come in a future “lesson”.

I hope this advice helps you a bit more.  But, like the doctor said, “if you still need help, take two pictures and call me in the morning”. :-)

Combining Birding and Photography


Okay, so you are a birder or a bird photographer and you want to get great bird photographs.  Birding and photography go hand in hand.  One complements the other.  If you get a great photograph of a bird, you want to be able to tell what it is.  Hence, you get into the birding aspect.  You don’t need to be an avid birder to photograph birds, but it is nice if you can name the birds that you do capture.  For that I would recommend carrying some kind of a bird guide.  We have several, but my two favorites are the Stokes Field Guide for North American birds; several great photos of each bird.  The other is the Sibley Guide to Birds;  great for identifying field marks, etc.

Originally, I didn’t consider myself to be a birder, but getting into the photographing of birds, has made me into one.  So I am in a bird photography mode everytime I leave the house.  I am constantly on the lookout for birds.  If I see a bird, I see an opportunity to get a photograph.  My camera is usually on the back seat or on my lap.  I have gotten some of my best shots, just blocks from my home, on my way to eat lunch, etc.

I am going to try to help you with some advice.  I am a bird photographer and a darned good one, if I do say so myself.  I have been published nationally and been on the cover of various books and magazines.  You can say to yourself, hey, this guy makes the big bucks so I should listen to him…….or you can go on your merry way and do what you want.  That will not hurt my feelings.

Bear in mind, this narrative just tells you what works for me.  I am not trying to force any distinct method upon you.

One of the key things you need is: PATIENCE  –  SLOW DOWN (Okay, that’s two things.)

Also, a good set of binoculars would be a plus.  I know, you are thinking, hey, I am a photographer.  Why the heck do I need those?  Before you can get great bird photographs, you need to find out where they are.  It is easier to spot them with binos, than it is with a long 500 or 600mm camera lens, because the magnification is a bit shorter and has a wider field of fiew.   Usually you can hear them first, then use your binoculars to locate them. Then you can plan a stratagey to to get in a position to use your camera.  By the way, a camera lens of at least 300mm is best, longer is better.  Just use what you can afford.

My own current set-up for birds is my Canon EOS 70D with a Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Bird blinds can be a big help, so that is my starting point to get my bird photos.   You can sit in comfort with your camera on a tripod and watch the birds come in.  Usually there are feeders set out to attract birds.  These give great opportunities for nice photographs.  But you can’t be picky about the light in the blinds.  They face different directions so you must learn to adapt.  Most blinds have some trees or some cover in them.  If the sun is from the side and producing harsh shadows, wait for a shot of the bird in open shade, or shielded by leaves, etc.  Don’t quit because of bad light.  A nice cloudy or overcast day is perfect.  Then the light is nice and even.  Plus, the colors seem to get a bit more saturated.  But when things aren’t perfect, you adapt, you make lemonade with the lemons.

I must interject here that the blind here in San Angelo is deplorable in the mornings, if it is a clear sunny day.  The sun hits from the left and leaves very harsh shadows early on.  If there are some clouds or it is slightly overcast I love the place.  But as I mentioned in the previous paragraph I just watch for birds to locate in open shade, where the sun isn’t catching part of it.

BUT, not all birds are seed eaters.  There are flycatchers and other small birds that you will hardly ever see at a bird blind.  You won’t see a hawk or other raptor in a blind, unless one makes a dive to try and grab one of the smaller birds.  If you want to really see all of those other types of birds, you must either drive or hike into the areas where they are seen.  This is what we do after we have exhausted our efforts at the blind.

If you like to use your car as a mobile bird blind as Ann and I do, you must drive slowly.  Keep your eyes alert, listen for any calls.  When you hear a bird, stop, use your binos to locate it if you don’t immediately see it.  Once you can locate it, you can then work at getting a photograph.  Watch the high branches of trees.  That is where we can find our owls.  Also, you never know when you may spot a hawk type.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

You can also hike to get your bird photos, but you definitely have to be quiet and stealthy.  Using a monopod for your camera can be a big help here.

In my gallery, http://bobzellerphotography.smugmug.com/Birds/, I have over one hundred thirty photographs, and growing.  I would say that only a small percentage of them, say about 15%, were taken at a bird blind.  So, I say get out, open your eyes, look up, look out, and be PATIENT.  Take it from me, it will pay off.  It is a heck of a lot of fun.  As they say, the fun is in the chase. :-)

National Wildlife Refuges are great places for bird photography of all types.  One of my personal favorites is the Basque Del Apache NWR near Socorro, New Mexico.  But there others, many in the state of Texas.

We are going to visit the Davis Mountains next weekend.  It is not a NWR, but just a state park amidst one of the best birding areas in the western part of the state.  We will visit the bird blinds at Davis Mountains State Park first.  By the way, Montezuma Quail have been reported there on occasion.  But beware, if you go there for only that, you will most likely be disappointed, as you probably have a one chance in five thousand of seeing them.  But you should spend an extra day and really do some traveling around the area, slowly.

During our trip to and from Fort Davis area next week, we will probably observe around 30-40 birds.  That means 30-40 opportunities for photographs.   I will most likely not be able to photograph all of them, but if I can locate them, I give myself the opportunity.  So be observant and give yourself the opportunities.

When we visit there, after a stop at the State Park blinds, we usually head out towards the McDonald Observatory.  No, we are not interested in looking at the stars, but there are great bird photographic opportunities along the way.  If we look closely, we see raptors or other birds.  There is one little roadside park complete with picnic tables and such, but it is a great bird area.  On a recent trip on that loop, we stopped at a scenic overlook.  In some nearby shrubs I photographed some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and a Wilson’s Warbler. We always look forward to stopping at those areas.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Another drive we like is to take a drive southeasterly towards Alpine.  About four miles out you come to the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center.  Great opportunity for hummingbirds and others.  Go on into Alpine, cut across on hwy 90 to go to Marfa, then head north back to Fort Davis.  Lots of opportunities for birds or hawks on the fence lines.  Great chance to photograph some Pronghorned Antelope, too.

But, as I tried to stress earlier.  Be Patient, Alert, go slowly.

Happy Photographing, Happy Birding.  Get great shots.

No Wordless Wednesday for me.


Some of my fellow bloggers have a thing in mid-week called a Wordless Wednesday post.  That is where they post one image and no dialogue.  I can’t do that.  Mainly, because I don’t know how to keep my mouth shut.  It wasn’t always that way though.  In my younger years, which actually was probably nearly the first 35% of my life, I was quite the invert.  Very shy, stuttered and generally held myself in low esteem.  That changed considerably later, but that is another story…….

So anyway, I have been going through my thousands of older photographs, many that I had forgotten I had.  For instance, I discovered an image of a Great-crested Flycatcher that I had taken just last April.  Heck, it was a lifer, and an addition to my 2014 Big Year list.  How the heck did I miss that?  When I am traveling I take hundreds of photos.  I then get home load them in the computer, briefly look at them for anything exciting, the mostly I forget about going back through them.  So that is what I did yesterday.  I believe that these photos that I am going to post here today, may be new to you.  I know that some they are mostly new to me.  This Osprey is from June 2008.

Osprey with fresh kill.

Osprey with fresh kill.

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe

Gray Hawk

Gray Hawk

The Gray Hawk was a rare find in Big Bend National Park.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Common Black-Hawk

Common Black-Hawk

This Common Black-Hawk is one of a pair that has been nesting at the Rio Grand Village camping area for several years.

Curved-billed Thrasher

Curved-billed Thrasher

Audubon Yellow-rumped Warbler

Audubon Yellow-rumped Warbler

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

And last, the following is a photograph that I took just this past Sunday at Spring Creek Park here in San Angelo.

Great Egret

Great Egret

I hope you enjoy these photos.  I will be back tomorrow, with a post about how Ann and I combine photography and birding.  Click on any of the photos to see enlargement.

Seeing the Nature Around Us


No that the fall and winter birds are starting to arrive, birding is getting exciting.  It is always great fun, but when you have new birds to look for it really gets the adrenalin flowing.

This morning I am going to show you a few images from the past week or so.  First up is this Pyrrhuloxia that I photographed at the blind at San Angelo State Park.  These birds are often confused with the Northern Cardinal.  One key thing I look for, if the bird is far away and I have difficulty making the ID, is that the Pyrrhuloxi has a yellow bill, whereas the Northern Cardinal has an orange bill.

Pyrrhuloxia

Pyrrhuloxia

On our trip to Abilene last week I managed to capture this image of our state bird, the Northern Mockingbird.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

The Northern Mockingbird is one bird that I tend to ignore, as I do most others that are common and plentiful to the area.  But they really have a distinct beauty about them.

Speaking of rather common birds.  The Common Grackle comes to mind.  But who says that even they can’t  be beautiful.  Witness the following photo that I captured Sunday morning.  The light was perfect in catching the bluish hues of this “Bronzed Grackle” subspecies.

Common Grackle

Common Grackle

We saw several of these grackles, but that is an understatement.  They were everywhere.  But venturing into Middle Concho Park, we came across some Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.  There were about twenty-five of them, but what was exciting was that there were also seven chicks among them.  As we watched, the adults flew onto a shoreline close by, leaving the little ones in a little huddle in the middle of the water.

A pair of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

A pair of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

Black-bellied Whistling Duck chicks

Black-bellied Whistling Duck chicks

These little guys just huddled together for mutual protection.  Also in Middle Concho Park, we spotted some Blue Jays high in a tree.  For some reason or other, Blue Jays are quite plentiful in the San Angelo area this year.  This image isn’t all that great, but I managed to reach it with my long lens.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

We then drove over to Spring Creek Park, and got a big surprise and it was the highlight of the day.

We were driving along the edge of the woods, and Ann noticed something on the ground about one hundred and twenty yards ahead of us.  We put the binoculars on it and discovered it was a Bobcat sitting and resting.  I immediately stopped the car so I could think of a plan that to use to capture images of it.

First I turned the car to the right so I could get some distant shots from my drivers side window.  After that I put the car in gear and started creeping farther along, trying to stay to the right, and to put a couple of trees in between me and the cat.  After what seemed forever, I finally

Bobcat

Bobcat

got within better shooting distance, still about forty yards away.  I didn’t want to get any closer for fear of spooking him.  I managed to get several shots of him, sitting and or crouching.  I had turned the engine off and Ann and I just sat there admiring this beautiful creature, before he ambled off to get some water in the nearby river.  The above shot is one many that I got.

By the way, my equipment set-up is a Canon EOS 70D with a Tamron 150-600mm lens.  I used it with all of my photos here.  With this combination I can keep my distance from the birds or animals.  I hate to put any stress on the wildlife I capture.  I just like to get my photographs then leave them to their natural environment.

I love just getting out and driving and observing nature.  If you take the time to look up or look around you, it is amazing what you might get the chance to see.

Enjoy the photos, and click on any of them to see enlargements.

The birds are coming! The birds are coming!


The winter birds are not all here yet, but they are beginning to straggle in.  Ann and I went to our local parks yesterday and spent about two hours.  We spotted twenty-three different species in that short time.  Of course, some of them were residents, but we spotted a few Eastern Bluebirds, Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Greater Yellowlegs, three Pied-billed Grebes, and a few Gadwalls.

In other news, some friends of ours moved back to Abilene, so we went to visit them.  During the day we visited the bird blind at Abilene State Park.  Wow!  What a disappointment.  It is definitely not photographer friendly.  Several vertical ‘slats’, for want of another word, are spaced about 10 inches apart across the window.  Nor was it exactly great bird watching either in our visit.  The water facility didn’t have any water for example.  It is very tiny. There are several feeders right in front of the window that I thought was distracting.  It just seems to me that everything was just placed in a hap-hazardly manner.  Maybe it was just me, but I could see no organization it it.  In the thirty minutes we were there we saw exactly two bird species.  Black-crested Titmouse and Carolina Chickadee.  I think they need to visit our blind here in San Angelo or the nice ones at Pedernales Falls SP.

Great Egret - photographed near Abilene, Texas

Great Egret – photographed near Abilene, Texas

So that is my rant for the day.  The above photo, by the way, was not photographed near the bird blind.  Of course, you probably knew that.

Vermilion Flycatcher from my archives.  March 2014

Vermilion Flycatcher from my archives. March 2014

Today, I have been going back through my archives, and it seems that I keep making these discoveries.  The following photo was taken during a trip to Knoxville, Tennessee, way back in 2008.  We had been visiting our dear friends, the Tappans.  Ann and I, along with Deb and Paul were driving along the Tennessee River.  Deb is an awesome photographer, too, so when we came across a rookery of Black-crowned Night Herons, we promptly got our equipment ready.  There were at least one hundred of them, some flying around, and others roosting.  I had been wondering where those photos were, and I found them in a folder buried inside another folder.

A happy Black-crowned Night Heron from my archives.  June 2008

A happy Black-crowned Night Heron from my archives. June 2008

Our 2014 Big Year list is at 193 right now.  As I have mentioned before, we have a goal of hitting 200 by the end of the year so we only have seven to go.  Sounds easy, but we have to get to work.  We are going back to the Davis Mountains later this month, then a few weeks later we hope to make another trip to Uvalde.  Then there might be even time for a few days to visit the Big Bend area.  Hopefully, we can find those seven during those trips.

 

Birding fun in Uvalde, Texas


Okay, boys and girls, hang on to your hats.  I have a brazilion photos to show you from our two day trip to Uvalde, Texas.  At only about 195 miles south of San Angelo, it has much to offer in the way of birding.

Green Jay

Green Jay

First, I would like to mention that we arrived Wednesday afternoon at the Live Oaks Bed and Breakfast.  Owned and operated by Pat and Gaye Morris, it is a perfect way to spend a few days.  All the amenities that you would expect, plus a great breakfast.  Four rooms inside the main house, and three individual casitas of which we stayed in one called “Treehouse”.  No, silly people, we weren’t in a tree, but a wonderful little comfy cabin.  Click the above link for more information.

We decided to come to Uvalde when a Facebook friend, Bob Shackleford mentioned that his place was nearly overrun with Green Jays.  That really got my attention, as that was one bird that have dreamed of seeing and photographing for years.  I contacted him and invited myself to visit him when we came to Uvalde.  He has this delightful little bird blind, and sure enough there were more than enough Green Jays to satisfy any photographer.

Bob Shackleford's bird blind

Bob Shackleford’s bird blind

We were able to check in early Wednesday afternoon, so I called Bob and we decided to pay him and his wife, Marianne, a visit.  He wanted us to try out the blind immediately, and for a few minutes, I was rewarded with photo opportunities right away.

Green Jay

Green Jay

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

We didn’t stay in the blind very long since it was very hot, and we wanted to visit with Bob and Anne (pronounced Anna) a bit longer, before we had to go check in to our little casita.  Before we left, we made arrangements to return the following day which was my birthday, and spend the day.  Anne, had already baked a cake for my birthday.  How great is that?

Green Jay

Green Jay

The following morning, after a sumptuous breakfast, cooked by Gaye, we headed back to the Shacklefords.  We headed right for Bob’s “Chicken House Bird Blind”.  Of course, I first photographed another Green Jay, then a few others.  Here are a few highlights.

Green Jay

Green Jay

Northern Cardinal, female

Northern Cardinal, female

Yellow-rumped Warbler - Audubon variety

Yellow-rumped Warbler – Audubon variety

Black-crested Titmouse

Black-crested Titmouse

Later, after going back to our room for a brief nap, we returned to have supper with the Shacklefords.  Wow!  That man knows how to use a barbeque grill.  He grilled some chicken breasts along with a bunch of veggies.  Then to top it off we had some of Anne’s pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting and pecans.  Fantastic!

After that, Bob mentioned that we should drive out along the highway, as we could probably find some various hawks.  So we all piled into our little Ford Escape and headed out.  Here are some of the highlights of that drive.  There are many.  I forgot to mention, click on any of the photos in this post and you will see beautiful enlargements.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk in flight

Red-tailed Hawk in flight

Forgive the clipped wings in the above photo, but I thought it was too beautiful to leave out of this post.

Scaled Quail - in late afternoon light.

Scaled Quail – in late afternoon light.

Harris's Hawk

Harris’s Hawk

Two Crested Caracaras share a utility pole crossbar.

Two Crested Caracaras share a utility pole crossbar.

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

A drive along a country drive wouldn’t be complete with seeing one of these vultures.

Black Vulture surveys the landscape.

Black Vulture surveys the landscape.

After saying goodbye to the Shacklefords, and promising to return in a few months we headed to our room, feeling great about our birding and photographic adventures.  We had hoped to see a Great Kiskadee, but that will have to wait until the next time.

The next morning after another great breakfast, I began my first day as an eighty-year old, and we headed back to San Angelo.  We were making good time, so we made a brief stop at the South Llano River State Park.  They have wonderful bird blinds there so we had time to check out one of them.

Nashville Warbler photographed at South Llano State Park

Nashville Warbler photographed at South Llano River State Park

For the trip, we saw a total of 40 species of birds.  We added two to my life list: Green Jay and Long-billed Thrasher.  That life list now stands at 275.  Maybe I can get to 300 before I turn 90.

For my 2014 Birding Big Year list, I added those two plus the Crested Caracara and the Harris’s Hawk, bring the total to 189.  Only eleven to go to make my goal of at least 200 species seen this year.

I feel great and I think it is going to be fun being an 80 year-old.  That is as long as I stay away from those senior centers and not let those old people influence me. :-)

Happy Birthday to Me…….


Almost to the end of another month.  And the end of another year in my life.  I will turn 80 on Thursday, which is October 2.  So to celebrate we, Ann and I will be doing our usual thing.  This time however, we will be birding at Uvalde, Texas.  A friend has invited us to use his bird blind down there, with promises of brand new birds for our life list.

We are leaving Wednesday morning Oct. 1, and will return Friday, October 3.  So I am looking forward to posting a blog over the weekend, hopefully with a bunch of new images of some new birds.

This will probably be my last post until the weekend, so here are a few recent photos that I have gotten locally.

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

This Northern Cardinal was at the bird blind at San Angelo State Park.  I thought he was too pretty to ignore.

Great Roadrunner on the hood of our car.

Great Roadrunner on the hood of our car.

We happened to look out the door of the blind, and we spotted a Greater Roadrunner on our Ford Escape.  Fortunately, besides the camera that was mounted on the tripod, I also had a second Canon 70D with my 100-400mm lens handy.  I grabbed it and got these shots before the roadrunner hopped off and ran towards the brush.

Greater Roadrunner on our car.

Greater Roadrunner on our car.

Not seeing as many birds that we had hoped, we took a drive around the park for a few minutes.  Not too many birds in the building.  A year or so ago, they, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, took upon themselves to spray the thick mesquite that is in abundance in the park.  The thought was that that the brushy trees were sapping too much of the valuable water of the area.  That was probably true, but in killling the trees, they also destroyed valuable habitat.  I believe that is why the populace of birds, hawks, and wildlife in general has declined.

But having said that, we was this Loggerhead Shrike on a thorny, dead branch.

Loggerhed Shrike

Loggerhed Shrike

So I apologize for the short post, but I hope to make for it in my next post.  But no promises, as I will then be an old man of 80, so we can get absent-minded.  But I would hate to have to start visiting the senior center downtown, because that is where all of the old people hang out. :-)