Elegant Tern emerges from the water with two fish in its mouth at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Huntington Beach, CA.
Our photographer of note this time around is Patricia Ware from Manhattan Beach, CA. Patricia captures striking bird life images in and around Southern California. In her interview that follows, she shares some great tips on using her photographic equipment to the highest degree and reminds us that even after arising early to find these beautiful photos, post-production and thoughtful backup plans keep her sanity intact.
Mandarin Duck photographed at the Los Angeles Arboretum, California.
Question: Your work is striking. How did you manage to capture that image of the Elegant Tern?
Answer: Thank you, I am so pleased you enjoy my work.
When the Terns are diving for fish, I try to capture them when they emerge from the water. To get sharp shots of fast-moving birds like Terns, you need to first put the correct settings in your camera. When I took this shot, I was using a Canon 1D mark iv, so I will describe the settings I use for my Canon cameras; however, similar settings are found for other camera models.
• Autofocus: Use AI Servo Autofocus. The AI stands for Artificial Intelligence. This algorithm determines the speed and the direction of fast-moving subjects when their focusing distance keeps changing. AI Servo Autofocus allows me to better track fast flying birds.
• Drive Mode: Set it to high-speed continuous shooting. On my Canon 1D mark iv, I was able to get 10 shots per second. When the action is at its greatest, clicking 10 shots per second gives me more opportunities to capture the action at its peak.
• Autofocus Point: Use the center autofocus for birds in flight. If I am shooting against a varied background such as trees or bushes, I will use the center autofocus point and aim for the center of the bird. If I know I will be shooting against a plain background such as a blue sky, I will use the center autofocus point plus surrounding AF point expansion.
• AI Servo Tracking Sensitivity: Set to SLOW. Setting the tracking sensitivity to slow allows me to refocus on the bird in flight more quickly when the camera locks its focus on the background rather than on the bird.
The Tern photo was taken from the bridge in the early morning at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach, CA. I waited until I saw a Tern dive and aimed as it surfaced. I didn’t realize it had two fish in its mouth until I uploaded my photos to my computer. Stopping a moment in time allows you to see even more than you did when you took the shot.
Black-necked Stilt walks along wetlands in Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, Playa del Rey, California.
Q: How did you get into wildlife photography?
A: In 2008, I purchased a Canon 40D which came with a 28-135mm zoom lens. My husband and I were rowing in the Back Bay in Newport Beach, California when I spotted an Osprey in the distance. My husband said I could zoom in on the bird to make it larger and he proceeded to show me how. I was blown away that I could make something so small and far away appear close and large in camera. At that moment I was hooked.
Perusing the internet to learn more about birds and Ospreys in particular, I stumbled across one of the most widely recognized bird photographers, Artie Morris. I read his blog and purchased one of his guides to bird photography. I loved his work and wanted to emulate him.
But first I needed to learn how to use my newly purchased camera. So I enrolled in a UCLA extension course on beginning photography and Photoshop. It was exactly what I needed. The class gave weekly assignments to improve our skills. And over the next three months I learned the basics of photography and Photoshop.
I am still learning. I often watch online videos and read blogs about photography and Photoshop in order to improve my skills.
Snowy Egret chaseing off another along the shoreline at Playa del Rey, California
Q: What are some of the challenges you face in your bird photography?
A: Getting up early (5:00 am) and driving the freeways are my biggest challenges. You need to be where the birds are and the morning light is wonderful.
I often wear black so I can hide in the shadows and then I stay in place until the birds to come to me. I love being in nature, so waiting for the birds is a joy rather than a challenge. It gives me time to enjoy the beauty surrounding me: the wonderful views of nature, the smell of the wet grasses, the birds singing in the trees or the quiet stillness.
Q: What camera system do you prefer? Favorite lens for wildlife photography?
A: I love taking shots of birds in flight, so I recently upgraded to a Canon’s 1DX ii. It’s great for action with its fast frame rate of 14 FPS with full tracking autofocus. The autofocus is excellent even with an extender. Additionally, I am able to take shots with a high ISO and still get wonderful image quality
When I use a tripod, my favorite lens is my 600mm. But more often I am hand-holding, and my lens of choice is a Canon 400 DO ii. Its autofocus is fast and it’s sharp with both the Canon 1.4X III and 2x III EF extenders. With one of these extenders, I have either a 560mm f/5.6 or an 800mm f/8 reach.
Because it is relatively light, I can walk for over a mile with the 400 DO ii. And because of its compact size I can take it out in our 22’ dory when we go to the Back Bay in Newport Beach, CA. Additionally, I can fit it in a carry-on when I take a flight so it makes a wonderful travel lens too.
Male Allen’s Hummingbird photo capture in Ware’s backyard.
Q: Do you have any tips or suggestions for photographers to edit and catalog their work?
A: Good photographs, that’s what it’s all about. Once I take them, I want to keep only the best and get rid of the rest. So I need to judge: Is the subject too small in the frame? Is it out of focus? Are the whites blown out and is there enough detail in the shadows? These are a few of the things that I evaluate.
However, even if a shot is technically flawless, I may not choose to keep it if it doesn’t speak to me. It needs to say, “This is a perfect moment in time.” Like when the Tern emerges from the water with two fish in its beak or when this juvenile Peregrine lands in the ice plant after one of his initial flights.
Or my photo needs to tell me a story such as this one showing shows how one Snowy Egret aggressively chases off another from its territory.
Or the photo needs to evoke a feeling or an emotion. This shot elicited confidence showing a Black-necked Stilt holding her head high while taking a big stride.
Whatever the criterion I use to make these judgments, I need to be able to preview the image at 100%. And I need to do this quickly with little wait time so I can move on to the next shot. Even though I can preview my images in Lightroom, it’s WAY too slow. I need something much faster, and Photo Mechanic from Camera Bits meets that need. Photo Mechanic is a super-fast image browser that speeds up my workflow. This software saves me serious time in my first-pass review to cull for rejected photos. It loads quickly so I can immediately see the photo in high resolution. I can check whether the eye is in perfect focus or use any other criterion to decide if the shot is worth keeping.
Not only must I decide which photos to keep, but I also need to decide where to store my photos. When I started out taking photos, I would store them on external hard drives. This was an easy solution that worked quite well until one day one when one of my hard drives failed. I had a sickening realization that I had messed up. I tried everything to get it back. I even took it to a person specializing in hard drive recovery and he was unsuccessful. Fortunately, I was able to recover my photos by attaching the hard drive to a different computer, but I learned my lesson. I now store my photos in multiple places.
I first copy my camera memory card a 2 TB portable external hard drive. I do my first pass at selecting and then make a second copy of the keepers to a 16 TB RAID external hard drive. Once the smaller hard drive is full, I move it into a file cabinet in our detached garage and replace it with a new hard drive.
Additionally, I pay for online backup using Backblaze, which automatically backups all my files on one computer as well as my portable and my RAID external hard drives. Presently, I have over 8 terabytes in their cloud.
Some people are turned off by the initial predicted upload time by Backblaze. However, it took me much less time. Of course, I have everything set for speed: I leave my computer on day and night, I have FiOS, which has blazing fast upload speeds, and in the Backblaze settings, I turn off automatic throttle and manually set it to use the most Internet bandwidth available. Backblaze is simple to use and it keeps my folder structure the same as it is on my computer. In fact, I’ve used it for several years now and during this time, my computer crashed. I easily restored my files on my new computer.
Along with Backblaze, I upload my photos to the Amazon Cloud, whose price is included with my prime membership. This gives me added security, but for me, it’s not as easy to retrieve photos as Backblaze. I also store and organize my high-resolution jpegs on Flickr. However, I primarily use Flickr for its social network. On Flickr I can view, interact, and learn in a huge community of professional and amateur photographers. And finally, my last storage site is on Zenfolio, which is my personal website to showcase my photos.
To some, these multiple places to store my photos may seem like overkill, but I certainly have peace of mind.
Clark’s Grebe swims carrying chick on its back.
Q: Why birds?
A: Birds are beautiful animals and they are everywhere. When my son was in third grade, he was assigned to do a report on local birds. So I took him to a local pond to observe the birds. The variety of birds there opened my eyes. I had never really looked before. As we researched the birds we saw, my son and I learned so much about the wildlife in our area. I then put up a feeder in my yard where I could make even closer observations and eventually take photographs.
Elegant Tern twists and shakes water from his body at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Huntington Beach, California.
Q: Who are some of your favorite wildlife photographers?
A: My favorite wildlife photographers are among the contacts on Flickr I have made on Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/): Sindri Skúlason, Philip Dunn, Eric Gofreed, Salah Baazizi, Gerda and Willie van Schalkwyk. I can follow their work on a daily basis and spend time identifying what I like about their shots. I can then try to imitate what I like about their work and because we comment on each other’s work and know each other, I can email them if I need to learn more.
Q: How has working in nature enhanced your life?
A: Pure joy is being in the quiet of nature and connecting with it. I love nature. Photographing nature, especially animals in the wild, is my way of protecting our planet and sharing its beauty.
Reddish Egret appears to be walking on water at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Huntington Beach, California.
All photos © Patricia Ware