May 20th, 2010

Birds As Art Bulletin #327



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Painted Bunting, startled female, Santa Clara Ranch, Starr County, TX
Image copyright 2010/Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART
Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with a 25mm Extension tube and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1/3 stop: 1/1600 sec. at f/5.6.

It took me ten minutes to add canvas and the primary tips to the image below. But it took me well more than 30 minutes to cleanup the dirt. Beto was listening carefully when I spoke at length on the subject of care of the soil around the shallow ponds :).

There are several interesting things to consider here:

  1. when folks see images like this they often state that the bird was disturbed by the flash. I always point out that there is know way of knowing whether it was the sound of the shutter or the light from the flash that startled the bird. In this case, the flash was off :). It is my position that birds are rarely if ever disturbed by flash when it is used during daylight hours.
  2. Will the new Content Aware Fill in CS-5 turn soil clean-up projects like this into 2 minute tasks?
  3. Note that the bird is completely off the ground in this image.
  4. To add the missing primary tips, I used the Quick Masking techniques that I learned from Robert O’Toole’s APTATS I:
  5. We had several male Painted Buntings come to the water.

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To clean up the dirt in this image I used the Patch Tool, a reduced Opacity Clone Stamp Tool, and several Quick Masks. All of the techniques that I used are described in Digital Basics: Plus tons more including the complete BAA digital workflow :).


While scouting around in McAllen, TX on my recent Rio Grande Valley trip, I ran into accomplished nature and wildlife photographer David Welling. Dave suggested that I give Beto Gutierrez a call and arrange a visit to Beto’s Santa Clara Ranch. So I did.

I visited the ranch on a single morning and a single afternoon. Our afternoon visit was spectacular as many birds and several snakes came to the water. Beto has built more than a few water level blinds and is quite serious about attracting serious nature photographers to his ranch. Famed Hungarian nature photographer Bence Mรกtรฉ visited recently and was quite impressed. He will be back. And Gordon and Cathy Ilg were bringing a group the day after my last visit.

More than any rancher that I have met and worked with, Beto is deadly serious about providing a great photographic experience for all who visit. My #1 suggestion to Beto was that the soil around the ponds–he brings in beautiful red dirt from other ranches–first be sifted clean of all debris and then smoothed daily. I explained that the surface of the soil should be perfectly manicured and graded so that the feet of the birds and other visiting animals are not hidden behind various nooks, crannies, and ridges. When Beto joined us–private clients Andy Hayes and Owen Deustch were with me–on our afternoon, we spent hours talking about light angle, perches, backgrounds, and the care of soil :).

Beto is currently constructing a large air conditioned residence for visiting photographers and groups. It is just minutes from the blinds. It will provide lodging and kitchen facilities and you will even be able to hire a cook for your stay. The ranch is about an hour from McAllen and only 35 minutes from Rio Grande City. According to Beto summer is the very best time to visit the Santa Clara (if you can stand the heat). A large variety of birds and mammals flock to the small ponds from dawn till dusk.

You can visit the web site to see some images by Beto and my friend Larry Ditto:

The text below has been adapted from Beto’s website:

The Santa Clara Ranch, located in the Rio Grande Valley of southern Texas, lies nine miles west of McCook in Starr County. Owned and operated by Dr. Beto Gutierrez, this 300 acre wildlife sanctuary is comprised entirely of virgin brush land. The Santa Clara Ranch is part of a growing group of land holdings owned by forward thinking landowners in the lower Rio Grande Valley who–over the past three decades–have realized the importance of creating and preserving natural habitat for wildlife . Their tireless efforts have resulted in the return of many native species to their lands; some of these birds and animals are found nowhere else on earth. This has developed an increased interest in the area and its wildlife as well as the opportunity to view an amazing number and variety of small songbirds during their annual spring migration. Many professional photographers now come to the Rio Grande Valley to harvest incredible images of wildlife. This was something that was unheard of in years gone by. Through the labors of these concerned individuals the Rio Grande valley is now one of the premier areas in North America to view and photograph wildlife.

Though small by Texan standards, the Santa Clara is a real gem because of the diversity of its wildlife. Its virgin brush land that has never seen a plow blade; natural history observers have the chance to see southern Texas the way it was before human intrusion. This small island of pristine Texas landscape is a sanctuary that offers an abundance of seeds, nuts, and berries that attract a profusion of native wildlife as well as migratory birds. The native plant life found on the Santa Clara makes it one of the most biodiverse landholdings in the region.

Through the tireless efforts of Dr. Gutierrez the Santa Clara is fast becoming one of the foremost destinations for bird watchers and nature photographers who are in search of native wildlife in a unique natural habitat. While many of the surrounding landholdings use hunting as a management tool, Beto has chosen not to allow hunting on the Santa Clara. Visiting photographers are able to capture images of wildlife interacting in nature in ways seldom seen on ranches where hunting pressure alters animal behavior. This is an important consideration for the serious photographer because many species of wildlife will often revert to nocturnal habits when confronted with the threat of human predation.

By consulting wildlife biologists and professional photographers Dr. Gutierrez has strategically constructed pit blinds, shallow ponds, and waterholes on the Santa Clara in a way that guarantees that ranch guests will see numerous species of birds and mammals in great light with uncluttered backgrounds. In one day at the Santa Clara, it is not uncommon to see twenty or more species of birds as well as mammals such as white-tailed deer, collared peccary , bobcat, and coyote.

You can contact Dr. Beto Gutierrez by telephone at 1-956-787-6808 or by e-mail:

I hope to get back to the Santa Clara in the near future.

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Mexican ground squirrel, Santa Clara Ranch, Starr County, TX
Image copyright 2010/Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART
Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with the 1.4X II TC an the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1/3 stop: 1/640 sec. at f/8.

After lunch we had a chance to share some images with Beto. I told him that though I sort of liked the “ground squirrel in heaven” look here that for most birds and animals it would be preferable to see the feet (and in this case, the cute tail).

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Greater Roadrunner, Santa Clara Ranch, Starr County, TX
Image copyright 2010/Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART
Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with a 25mm Extension tube and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering at zero: 1/1000 sec. at f/5.6. Fill flash at -2 stops with the Better Beamer.

We were barely settled in the water level blind when the first roadrunner arrived. Several visited. This one was fearless.

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Coachwhip, Santa Clara Ranch, Starr County, TX
Image copyright 2010/Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART
Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with a 25mm Extension tube and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1 stop: 1/320 sec. at f/5.6. Fill flash with Better Beamer at -3 stops.

I set a high ISO and used the wide open aperture to ensure having enough shutter speed to create a sharp image of this snake that was swimming along at a good clip.

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To achieve the composition that I wanted, I manually selected the lower right focusing sensor and did it quickly. Being intimately familiar with your camera is mandatory if you wish to become a competent nature photographer. If you are constantly fumbling around with the dials and controls on your camera you will miss countless opportunities. Birds and animals are not into posing patiently while you fiddle around :).

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Painted Bunting, male, Santa Clara Ranch, Starr County, TX
Image copyright 2010/Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART
Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with a 25mm Extension tube and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1 stop: 1/100 sec. at f/5.6. Fill flash at -3 stops with the Better Beamer.

This bird came in right after the roadrunner. When you are working at 1/100 sec., it is imperative that the subject does not move during the exposure…. I got lucky here ๐Ÿ™‚ (Note the blocked view of the feet….)

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Northern Bobwhite, dust bathing, Santa Clara Ranch, Starr County, TX
Image copyright 2010/Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART
Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 1600. Evaluative metering +2/3 stop: 1/400 sec. at f/5.6. Fill flash at -2 stops with the Better Beamer.

This is an image that I never would have even tried to make with film: there was a small bush between me and the subject… But since digital is free once you are out in the field, I took a chance and got lucky.


Amazingly, to me at least, the newly re-designed BAA Blog is garnering more page views than (Thanks again to Peter Kes for his great work on the blog; he is currently re-doing the web site.

if you would like to see some great Osprey images or if you live in or are currently visiting central Florida and would like to spend a day or two with Jim Neiger on his pontoon boat in Osprey Heaven, you need to check out yesterday’s blog post immediately:

Thanks to all who played “Pick Six.” I will reveal my favorite and the answer in a new post tonight ๐Ÿ™‚ While you are there, be sure to check out the new text on the About page ๐Ÿ™‚ (Can’t help it; I am a happy man).


The Original Gatorland Photographic Instructional Workshops/New Dates Added for June 2010.

Field Workshops: June 5-6, 2010 & June 12-13, 2010 (if June 5-6 fills up). Extensive in-the-field instruction at East Central Florida’s best rookery location, Gatorland in Kissimmee, FL. Includes two hour classroom presentation Successful Strategies for Rookery Photography and image critique sessions each day of images you created during the workshop. Field instruction includes isolating your subject, understanding light, proper exposure (exposing to the right), using depth of field to your advantage, fill-flash and lots more. CD with lesson plans included – no note taking required. Learn more here:

Field and Classroom: May 14-16, 2010 (places available on Friday and Sunday for one day participants). Three full days covering everything that the field workshop does plus extensive classroom instruction in image editing and optimization and presentations on photographic technique concentrating on rookery photography. Learn more here:

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Great Egret in flight – Gatorland, Image Copyright 2009: Robert Amoruso
Canon 50D, Canon 70-200mm + 1.4x TC. 1/30 sec, f/5.6, Manual, Evaluative, ISO 250, Flash Compensation +3.

Understanding the correct flash technique with birds in flight is key to making images like this.

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American Alligator, Gatorland, Image Copyright 2009: Robert Amoruso
Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 600mm + 1.4x TC. 1/200 sec, f/5.6, Manual, Evaluative, ISO 800.

The light and reflections seen in this image last only a few minutes at Gatorland. Knowing where to be and when at Gatorland, I can show you how to create images like this. The blue color cast was intentionally left in during image processing.

Lake Clark National Park, AK Coastal Brown Bear Photographic Instructional Workshop, REDUCED PRICING, $400 Discount on this Workshop.

Join Robert Amoruso July 21 to 27, 2010 on a journey photographing Coastal Brown Bears in Lake Clark National Park on Cook Inlet in Alaska. We will photograph male and female bears; some with cubs sedging on the open plains, clamming and fishing. On each trip we have seen females nursing their young. The workshop also includes a days trip to a Puffin and Murres rookery island. Expert bear-savvy guides will transport us to our photography locations. Our headquarters will be the famous Silver Salmon Creek Lodge after a day of photography warm yourself in the cozy lodge, enjoy fabulous meals and great company before retiring to a warm bed. In 2007 I created two images that went on to become NANPA Showcase top-ten and top-100 winners. Learn more here:

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Coastal Brown Bear Lake Clark National Park, AK, Image Copyright 2009: Robert Amoruso
Canon 1D Mark III, Canon 600mm ,1/500 sec, f/5.6, Manual, Evaluative, ISO 800

Proper exposure is key to rendering shadow details in bear images.

Please contact Robert for additional info or to learn about his Private Photographic Instructional Workshops: 407-808-7417 (cell). E-mail: Images: Workshop info:


BOSQUE del APACHE 2010 IPT: The Complete Bosque Experience.NOV 20-26, 2010

Slide program on the evening of Friday, NOV 19. 7-FULL DAYS: $3199. (Non-refundable deposit: $500; see details below.) Limit: 10/Openings: 5. Co-leaders: Robert OToole, Jim Heupel, and multiple BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year honoree Chris Van Rooyen of South Africa ( Live, eat, and breathe photography with one of (if not the) world’s premier photographic educators at one of his very favorite locations on the planet. Plus great co-leaders and top-notch Photoshop instruction. Please see terms and deposit info below.

SAN DIEGO IPT JAN 19-23, 2011.

Slide program on the evening of JAN 18. 5 Full Days: $2399 (Limit 8/Opening 7)
Brown Pelicans in spectacular breeding plumage with their bright red bill pouches, Wood and Ring-necked Ducks, Lesser Scaup, Western, California, and Heerman’s Gulls, Marbled Godwit, and lots, lots more. Please see terms and deposit info below.


Slide program on the evening of FEB 17. 6 Full Days: 2899. (Limit 10/Openings 8)
Escape winter’s icy grip to enjoy a wide array of Florida’s tame birds: herons, egrets, Wood Stork, shorebirds, gulls, terns, skimmers, raptors, and more. Please see terms and deposit info immediately below:

Terms and deposit info

A non-refundable deposit of $500 is required to hold a spot fn the above IPTs. Deposits may be paid by check, PayPal, or credit card. Payment in full (by check or money order only) is due four months before the start of each trip and is non-refundable unless the IPT sells out. You will be required to sign a statement of understanding to this effect. Travel insurance is of course highly recommended. Travel Insurance Services offers a variety of plans and options. Included with the Elite Option or available as an upgrade to the Basic & Plus Options is Cancel for Any Reason Coverage that expands the list of reasons for your canceling to an infinite list from a sudden work or family obligation to a simple change of mind. My family and I use and depend on the great policies offered by TIS whenever we travel. You can learn more here: Do note that many plans require that you purchase your travel insurance within 14 days of our cashing your deposit check or running your credit card. Travel insurance protects you against unexpected developments, injuries, or illnesses. We regret that we must implement this new policy but we have been plagued by last minute cancellations that make it impossible for others to participate and deprive us of essential income.

Important note: please print, fill out, and sign the registration and release forms and include them with your deposit check (made out to “Arthur Morris.” ) If you use a credit card to register, please fill out, sign, and mail the forms asap. Your registration will not be complete until we receive your paper work. You can find the forms here: Registration and Release Form.

2010 & 2011 Galapagos Photo Cruise of a Lifetime IPTs/The Complete Galapagos Photographic Experience

July 2010 & July 2011: two weeks on the boat (Limits: 12/Sold out).

If you are a happy camper and would like to have your name(s) placed on a waiting list or either the 2010 or 2011 trip or on the the seriously interested list for the 2012 trip, please e-mail us at


March 18-22, 2011 & March 24-28. 5-FULL DAYS: $3249. Limit: 12 (including the leaders/sold out).
Both of these trips sold out with long waiting lists within hours after being announced to the BAA Friends List. The Friends List consists of IPT veterans who fit in the happy camper category. If you have been on an IPT and would like your name added to the BAA Friends List, please e-mail me at and include a short note.

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