November 3rd, 2009

Birds As Art Bulletin #304


  • ROBERT O’TOOLE’S APTATS II/Pre-Publication Discount Offer
  • ALAN MURPHY’S “Guide to Songbird Set-up Photography”

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Cooper’s Hawk Attacking, Cape May, NJ
Image Copyright 2009: Jim Neiger/Flight School
This beyond-spectacular image was created with the Canon EOS-1D Mark III. Jim has been making sharp flight images with his original Mark III for years. For the technical details and to learn how this bird was attracted into photographic range, see the BPN post here: See my additonal comments immediately below.


I spent the better part of three days at the end of last week working on improving Digital Basics. All of the updates, which had been included at the end of the original text, have now been incorporated in the main body of the text. The section on converting images in ACR has been completely re-written and the re-write includes my latest revelations. We hope to have the update sent to all purchasers (updates are free for life) no later than Friday, November 13, 2009. Please do not e-mail us before then unless you have a new e-mail address. And please do let us know how you paid.

As good as Digital Basics has been, folks will find this latest update far better. Beginners and those of you who have been ruining your good images in Photoshop are urged to check out Digital Basics here:

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Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Panama
Image Copyright 2009: Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART
If you cannot transform the image above to the image below, then you need to order Digital Basics and get studying:

For the technical and other details on this image check out “Panama to JFK #4/Is it Real or is it Counterfeit?” in the Avian Forum at

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I received this e-mail ON October 25 after posting my initial impressions of the new Canon EOS-1D Mark IV professional digital camera body in the October 22, 2009 BAA Notes.

Dear Arthur, I get your bulletins regularly & they always come with great images, but I wish you would refrain from commenting on new Canon 1 series bodies, the reason being is that I remember you saying that the MK3 had a “great AF system.” This was proved to be untrue by the various recalls for this fix & that fix!! Now you say the same things about the MK4. We all know that you are a contract photographer for Canon & you get paid to say nice things. Let’s face it: they would pull the plug on you if you didn’t say nice things, so please don’t do it. You do not adhere yourself to people when this happens especially in the UK & the USA. What we are looking for are unbiased views from a production camera! Regards

I started crafting an answer but realized that it would have been a waste of my time so I simply replied, “Thanks for sharing your thoughts.” Later and love, artie

I did, however, wish to share my thoughts on the e-mail here as for the past 27 years I have always striven to be totally honest in all areas but especially when it comes to evaluating photographic equipment and accessories. To do otherwise would be suicidal; the huge success of BIRDS AS ART Mail Order has been due in great part to three factors: #1: the fact that I personally answer hundreds of equipment- and nature photography-related e-mail questions each month personally. #2: the fact that we offer unbiased evaluations of the various items that we sell and in many cases, actually teach you to use what you are buying. #3: the speed and accuracy of the work done by Jim Litzenberg in filling your orders.

When I tested the EOS-1D Mark III camera body before its release several years ago, I did have a pre-production model. The AF performed well for me. Robert O’Toole tried the camera for a bit at Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park and felt that the AF was great. He had no problem at all creating sharp images of speeding cormorants using 45-Point AAFPS. (As it turned out, I could never get satisfactory results using AAFPS on flying birds with the Mark III.) In the several days that I had the camera I had very few flight photography opportunities and based my initial comments on the sharp flight images that I created. Having had experience with pre-production bodies of several different cameras it is my strong belief that they are identical to the production models that follow soon thereafter.

As far as kissing up to Canon nothing could be further from the truth. As regular Bulletin readers know, I have criticized Canon for a variety of things over the years and, when praise has been due, spoken more than favorably about various Nikon products.

Following up on the Mark III, there certainly were severe AF problems with individual camera bodies and as I have stated here numerous times, consistent AF accuracy was and continues to be a problem; the first frame in a sequence soft, then two sharp ones, one soft, and then another sharp one. I always followed that up by saying that that had been the case with previous cameras and that to expect ten our of ten flight images to be razor sharp on the eye was simply not realistic.

That said, do note however that many experienced photographers have loved the Mark III’s AF from the get go and have been making incredibly sharp images for years. Most notable in this category is Jim Neiger who has revolutionized handheld photography with big lenses and teleconverters using and teaching his bump-the-focus technique. (See Jim’s killer Cooper’s Hawk image above.) Jim is still using the same Mark III body that he purchased soon after the camera was released. Consider this: over the years I sailed often with Jim on Lake Toho on his pontoon boat; he often borrowed my MIII for some flight photography and consistently created sharp images with it. It has long been my contention that the furor over the MIII was greatly exaggerated and that most folks who complained about various MIII AF issues had never created a good flight image in their lives.

Can you say “operator error”?

Han e-mail exchange with a subscriber:

AM: Hi Micha,


Micha: I have been reading your newsletters and your CD about bird photography. I want to thank you for all the good advice!


Micha: Now I have a question – and a problem! I am currently using the Canon 1DMkIII and I have problems (and so do many others) with focusing on BIF over water – or BIF with a forest background.

AM: As I have said many times before, and please do not take this personally, it is hard to tell whether the problems that most folks are having are due to a faulty camera or to operator error. Photographing birds in flight is a difficult skill and when they are flying against backgrounds other than sky it is imperative that the sensor be kept exactly on the bird at all times and that if you lose focus, you must bump the focus, that is, ease up on the shutter button, put the sensor back on the bird, and depress the shutter button again to re-acquire focus. (That from Jim Neiger….)

Micha: As I am #4 in line for the new Mark IV I would very much appreciate your opinion – do you think that the Mark IV is better in that respect, or is the situation explained above simply “impossible”?

AM: I do believe that the AI Servo AF on the MIV is better—faster and more consistently accurate than the MIII—but please note that I had the camera for only a very few days. The situation that you describe is difficult but not impossible. Succeeding requires lots of practice and some degree of skill.

Micha: I have recently purchased the Canon 800mm IS lens – and I must say, that I have to do all my birds all over again – the lens is simply fantastic!

AM: Agree.

Micha: As an example I enclose the Nuthatch, in our Northern country a rare bird!

AM: Thanks for sharing. It is a nice image except that the bird is AA, angled away (BAA = bird angled away). You should start posting on BPN; your work will improve quickly. Have you seen my comments on the MIV in a recent Bulletin with the links to various BPN threads???? Later and love, artie

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Swallow-tailed Gull, Punta Suarez, Hood Island, Galapagos
Image Copyright 2009: Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART
Canon 400mm F/4 IS DO lens (handheld) with the Canon EOS-1D MIII. ISO 500. Evaluative metering at zero: 1/1600 sec. at f/4.5.

According to great numbers of internet experts the Mark III cannot focus accurately on birds flying against backgrounds other than sky. I find that as long as I can keep the central sensor right on the bird that the camera has not problem doing just that (as above).




See here for details, location, directions, and to register:

In this practical and educational slide program you we will learn which Canon lenses I use to create a variety of my amazing images, how, why, and when I use each of them, and what I am thinking as I depress the shutter button. Many folks will be surprised to learn that a long lens with a teleconverter is often not the best tool for the job. A selection of books, educational materials, and prints will be available for purchase.

Please note these important basics for the Friday evening program: Date & time: Friday Nov 6th, 2009, 6:30pm. Free with a non-perishable food item for the Dayton Foodbank. Location: Wegerzyn Gardens. Please register here:


DAYTON, OH. SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2009: 9am-5:30pm. (Lunch break noon til 1:30pm)

LOCATION: Cox Arboretum, 6733 Springboro Pike, Dayton, OH 45449 (937-434-9006) Limit: 48: 9 seats left.

There will be two programs on Saturday morning. The first will be “Composition and Image Design.” The second will be “Tips on Getting Close.” Each segment will feature well more than a hundred spectacular images and will include the tips, techniques, and ideas that I have learned, developed, and refined over the past 26 plus years. The afternoon session will cover understanding and adjusting histograms in the field, the complete BAA digital workflow (including ACR conversions), and a slew of simple, easy to learn Photoshop tips including the use of the Clone Stamp, the amazing Patch Tool, creating and using Quick Masks for dozens of applications, and the Average Blur Color Balance trick among others. I like to work quickly yet have my images look great. There will be a 30-minute break morning and afternoon. Whether you photograph general nature or just birds, all who attend will leave as better photographers.

(Do note that the Saturday seminar will be a continuation of the free Friday evening program; Saturday registrants are urged to attend Friday night if at all possible.)

The cost of the Saturday Seminar is $159. Members of participating camera clubs may apply a $15 discount. In addition, $15 from each registration fee will be split and donated to the Dayton Foodbank and to Five Rivers Metro Parks. Students under 22 years of age with a valid driver’s license and a student ID may register for $99. With a strict limit of 48 attendees, registration is by phone only: please call 863-692-0906 with a credit card in hand. Due to the short notice the registration fee is non-refundable. We will be here pretty much all day every day to process your registration; feel free to call between 7am and 9pm seven days a week.

Register with a friend or a spouse and apply a $15 discount to each reservation. To encourage out of town folks to register, those traveling more than 150 miles or flying to the event, may apply a $50 discount to registration fee.

See you there! A selection of books, CDs, and prints will be available for purchase on Saturday. INTERVIEW

Be sure to check out a recent lengthy and interesting interview of yours truly on Lens Flare by Dave Warner. As always, I speak my mind quite openly. (No shock there 🙂 ) We cover lots and lots of bases. You can find the interview easily by clicking here: And you can scroll down to hear interviews with several other Canon Explorers of Light as well other notable Canon photographers. Dave had a hard time shutting me up as I really got rolling on equipment, tips, the business of bird photography, and lots, lots more.


Multiple IPT veteran Monte Brown is offering a like-new Canon EOS-50D for sale. It includes the Vertical Grip, 3 batteries, all original cables, software manuals, etc. It is in the original box with just under 8,000 actuations and is in perfect condition with no scratches: at $875 firm plus shipping and insurance it is a steal.

Also, he is selling a Sigma 12-24mm (Canon version) in excellent condition with the soft case and the original box: $495 firm plus shipping and insurance.

I do not know that one. Let me know what you want to do. Thanks.

ROBERT O’TOOLE’S APTATS II/Pre-Publication Discount Offer

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Glossy Ibis, braking to land, Merritt Island NWR, Titusville, FL
Image Copyright 2009: Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART
Canon 400mm F/4 IS DO lens (handheld) with the Canon EOS-1D MIII. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +2/3 stop: 1/1600 sec. at f/7.1.

For years I have been giving this universal advice for better flight photography: “Pan faster!” Even with 26 years of experience, this is not always easy to do 🙂 I never got around to processing this image because it would have entailed quite a bit of work using Quick Masks. Thinking that I remembered all the steps in Robert’s APTATS II “Composition Correction: Increase Lead Room Without Cropping/Basic” tutorial,” I tried it myself. And failed miserably despite the fact that I though that I had it down pat. So I opened the tutorial on my laptop and followed the easy-to-read instructions, and voila, in less than a minute I had moved the bird down and well back in the frame. (Heck, I helped Robert with the writing!) The optimized image file is below.

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Conversion was in ACR as described in the updated Digital Basics. Used a Quick Mask (as described in APTATS I & Digital Basics) to selectively sharpen the bird’s face and bill. I used another Quick Mask to blur the lower left corner vegetation (with a 20 pixel Gaussian blur as described in Digital Basics). The Layer mask covered the vegetation in the middle of the lower frame edge.

Robert O’Toole’s APTATS II CD (Advanced Photoshop Tips and Techniques Simplified II)

We are aiming for late-December, 2009 before the holidays…. Order now; save $5.00. See below for details.

APTATS II will include sample images for each tutorial so that you can easily follow along and practice. Dozens and dozens and dozens more screen captures will make your trip through each tutorial both pain-free and mistake-free. After working the sample images you can try each technique on some suitable images of your own. In short order you will own the techniques. Once that happens you will find countless new uses for the techniques. For me the great revelation that I garnered from APTATS II is that using Layer Masks (paint with black to hide, paint with white to restore) and Hide All Layer Masks is actually simple. And if you do make a small error while painting, you can simply hit X and paint to correct your error. (When using a Quick Mask you need to go back in History in order to correct mistakes.)

Here are the tutorials in APTATS II:

  • Composition Correction: Increase Lead Room Without Cropping/Basic
  • Composition Correction: Increase Lead Room Without Cropping/Intermediate
  • Composition Correction: Increase Space Near a Frame Edge/Advanced
  • Super-Fast Element Removal: Basic
  • Super-Fast Element Removal Plus Composition Improvement
  • Gradient Background Blur
  • Mask Blending for Mega-Depth-of-Field
  • Selective Highlight Detail Enhancement
  • Selective Noise Reduction and Sharpening
  • Selective Sharpening with Finely Detailed Edges
  • Average Blur Color Balance Trick

BIRDS AS ART is currently accepting pre-publication orders for Robert O’Toole’s APTATS II CD (Advanced Photoshop Tips and Techniques Simplified II). Unlike APTATS I, APTATS II will be a professionally designed, packaged, and burned CD. We are striving to have them here at BAA in time to ship them before the holiday season. APTATS II will sell for $30 plus $3.00 shipping and handling to US addresses. Shipping to Canada is $6.00. It is $8.00 for all foreign orders. Florida residents will need to add 7% sales tax ($2.10) on the cost of the CD only.

Now here’s the best news: you can save $5 by pre-ordering your copy of Robert O’Toole’s APTATS II now (only through BAA). You can send us a Paypal, call us at 863-692-0906 with a credit card in hand, or order APTATS II from the BAA On-line Store (with secure credit card data transmission) by clicking here:

(Note: Shipping charges with BAA On-line Store orders may vary by small amounts from those noted above.)

ALAN MURPHY’S “Guide to Songbird Set-up Photography”

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The book is lavishly illustrated not only with Alan’s killer images but with dozens and dozens of step-by-step photos that will show you exactly how to create your own successful set-ups. The writing is clear and concise and the directions are easy-to-follow and inclusive. As Alan shows in the book, if you have only a small backyard, heck, even just a patio or a balcony, he can help you to create some stunning avian images on a consistent basis.

BIRDS AS ART is proud to announce that we are currently accepting pre-publication orders for Alan Murphy’s Guide to Songbird Set-Up Photography (SSUP). The professionally designed, packaged, and burned CD will be available some time in December, 2009. It will sell for $50 plus $3.00 shipping and handling to US addresses. Shipping to Canada is $6.00. It is $8.00 for all foreign orders. Florida residents will need to add 7% sales tax ($3.50) on the cost of the CD only.

You can send us a Paypal, call us at 863-692-0906 with a credit card in hand, or order SSUP from the BAA On-line Store (with secure credit card data transmission) by clicking here: Alan Murphy’s “Guide to Songbird Set-up Photography” (Note: Shipping charges with BAA On-line Store orders will likely vary by small amounts from those noted above.)

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Sandhill Crane in flight, Bosque del Apache NWR, San Antonio, NM
Image Copyright 2008: Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART
Canon 800mm F/5.6L IS lens with the Canon EOS-1D MIII. ISO 1000. Evaluative metering +2 stops: 1/800 sec. at f/5.6.

Here’s another razor sharp MIII flight image….. At Bosque being in the right place at the right time on the right wind is well more than half the battle. I never visit either of the two crane pools in the morning when the wind has any westerly component. On the rare south or southeast wind, I will make sure to arrive early so that I can enjoy the perfect conditions and make some great flight images. For me, the best part of this image is the wing position: the full downstroke. To learn where to be when at Bosque (or several other great bird photography hotspots), check out our unique BAA Site Guides here: A BAA Site Guide is the next best thing to attending an IPT.


For the past 14 years I have visited Bosque during the holiday season in part to honor the memory of my late-wife, Elaine Belsky Morris. And for more years than I can remember, I have hosted a Thanksgiving Luncheon for visiting photographers and birders. For years it was held at the Val Verde Steakhouse in Socorro. When that closed, we traveled up I-25 to the wonderful and historic Luna Mansion. Now that that facility has closed, we will be holding this year’s luncheon at the Stage Door Grille ( in Socorro. In part due to my frantic pleading, Terry Eilers will be open this Thanksgiving Day.

Here’s the menu: Choice of turkey or ham, stuffing, mashed potato and gravy, vegetable, and choice of apple or pecan pie. Vegetarian special: eggplant parmigiana. Soft drink and tip are included: $20.

If you would like to join us please send a check made out to “Arthur Morris” for $20 to us here:

Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART
PO Box 7245 4041Granada Drive
Indian Lake Estates, FL 33855

Sorry: no credit cards or Paypals for this party.

Please note “Thanksgiving Luncheon” on your check. If you are registered for the The Complete BOSQUE Experience 2009 IPT, not to worry: this one’s on me.

If you are gonna be in Socorro, you should consider joining us as good food is scarce there on Thanksgiving Day. And the event has always been a feel-good one.

Note: Whether you are visiting Bosque for the first time or have been there many times, a BIRDS AS ART Site Guide is the next best thing to attending an IPT:


Great news: Todd Gustafson will be joining me as co-leader on the San Diego IPT.

San Diego IPT JAN 13-17, 2010 5 Full Days: $2395 (Limit 8/Openings: 4)

Slide program on the evening of TUE JAN 12. Payment in full is due now. We can accept your $500 deposit via credit card and will await the check for your balance. You may pay your deposit with either a personal check or with a credit card and a phone call (863-692-09060. To complete a valid registration, please fill out and complete the Registration and the Release & Assumption of Risk forms that can be found here: and Release Forms.pdf If you call with a credit card to register, please be sure to print, sign, and return the Registration and the Release & Assumption of Risk forms within ten days.

The gate at the Cave Store Cliffs has been unlocked for many, many months and my understanding is that the fence has now been removed as well. (Though I am not quite positive on the cause and effect here I do know that Scott Bourne had a show-cause order filed with regards to public access at this location.)

We will get to photograph killer breeding plumage Brown Pelicans with the red bill pouches at close range and in flight. Santee Lakes will yield close-up Wood Ducks and lots more; White Pelicans are likely there. LaJolla Shores Beach will yield Marbled Godwits in beautiful buff reflections and this spot and Coronado will give us chances on a variety of gorgeous gulls and several shorebird species as well. I selected dates that feature perfect tides for both our morning and afternoon coastal locations. And we will have extensive time for image review and Photoshop techniques.

100 Reasons to Register for the San Diego IPT You can view a gallery with my 100 favorite San Diego images here: Click on the first image to see and then click on next to view the images as a slide show. Scroll down to see the EXIF data for each image (including those above and below). Then send your deposit check 🙂 I do hope that you can join us.

Note: Whether you are visiting San Diego for the first time or have been there many times, a BIRDS AS ART Site Guide is the next best thing to attending an IPT:


Gustafson Photo Safari has spots on two great photo trips on sale due to recent medical cancellations:

Madagascar: February 11-27, 2010. $7,000. Fifteen species of Lemurs and of chameleons, magnificent landscapes including the Avenue of Baobabs. Long lens, wide angle and macro photography.

India: February 26-March 12, 2010. $6,500. Tigers, lost temples, and the Taj Mahal. Lots of mammals including leopard, Indian wolf, 5 species of monkeys and, of course, tigers! Lots of bird photography, including Bharatpur where there are 14 species of birds nesting.

For more details call Todd Gustafson at (847)298-8351 or e-mail Todd at Details at


BOSQUE del APACHE 2009 IPT: “The Complete Bosque Experience.” NOV 21-27, 2009

Slide program on the evening of Friday, NOV 20. 7-FULL DAYS: $3199. (Non-refundable deposit: $500; see details below.) Limit: 10/Openings: 1. Co-leaders: Scott Bourne and Robert O’Toole. 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 two great co-leaders and lots of Photoshop instruction.


Slide program on the evening of FEB 9. Slide program on the evening of FEB 11. 6-FULL DAYS: $2799. (Non-refundable deposit: $500.) Limit: 10/Openings: 1. Co-leaders: Tim Grey and Alfred and Fabiola Forns.

Imagine having Photoshop guru Tim Grey at your side to answer your Photoshop questions for 6 full days! Escape winter’s icy grip and join me in Florida in the land of ridiculously tame birds. This IPT will visit Little Estero Lagoon which has been fantastic for the past three years (and been getting better each year), the Venice Rookery, several killer Burrowing Owl nests on Cape Coral, and several spots on Sanibel including Blind Pass, the Sanibel Fishing Pier, and the East Gulf beaches (for Snowy Plover). If we have a foggy drizzly morning we may visit Corkscrew Swamp and Sanctuary. We have arranged for morning low tides at Little Estero and a setting full moon for our Saturday visit to the Venice Rookery :). For the first time ever, we will not be visiting Ding Darling NWR as photographic opportunities there have been diminishing steadily for the past decade. As you can see, I am teaching less and less, taking fewer folks, and lengthening the IPTs to allow for a slightly more relaxed pace with repeat visits to the best locations.

A non-refundable deposit of $500 is required to hold a spot for each of the above IPTs. Deposits may be paid by check, Paypal, or credit card. Payment in full (by check or money order) 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, you can also purchase Cancel for Any Reason Coverage, which 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: Travel Insurance Services. We regret that we must implement this new policy but we have recently been plagued by last minute cancellations that make it impossible for others to participate and deprive us of essential income.

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