September 11th, 2011




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This Marbled Godwit was photographed at Nickerson Beach at 6:51 am on August 30, two days after Hurricane Irene. (If you missed “Surreal Hurricane Irene Experience” be sure to click here.) Marbled Godwit is uncommon at best at this location. The image was created with the tripod-mounted Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens, the 1.4X III TC, and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1 stop: 1/500 sec. at f/9 in Manual mode. Central Sensor/Rear Focus AI Servo AF and re-compose. See the first feature below to learn about rear focus.

Lens/TC/Camera Body Micro-Adjustment: 0.


Blog-folks who read the captions carefully have noticed recently that I have been adding rear focus info to most images. In the Marbled Godwit image caption above I wrote, “Central Sensor/Rear Focus AI Servo AF and re-compose.” With the 800mm lens, the 1.4X III TC, and a pro body (the Mark IV), only the central sensor is active. Unless you know what you are doing having only the central AF sensor available can lead to problems. As I have written before, many folks become compositional slaves to the central sensor especially when working in AI Servo AF (as opposed to using One-Shot AF and re-compose). Nikon folks, not to worry. Nikon does offer rear focus. Please consult your camera body manual. Or hold on for a bit as Robert O’Toole’s long, long awaited Nikon Camera Guide should be available soon. As always Canon’s “AI Servo AF” is the same as Nikon’s “Continous” (C) and likewise, Canon’s “One Shot” is Nikon’s “Single Servo” (S). Yes, I know that it is confusing….

Rear focus involves focusing by pushing a button on the top right back of the camera (rather than by pushing the shutter button). You need to change a custom function or two to set up rear focus. And with some systems you set up rear focus via the camera’s menu. You can consult your camera body to learn to set up rear focus. Canon folks are urged to consult our camera User’s Guides for detailed information on exactly how I set up my cameras for rear focus. Set-up is similar with the Mark III and the Mark IV and with these bodies I recommend swapping the functions of the Star and the AF-On buttons. Set-up with the 7D is totally different. In each case the User’s Guide contains detailed instructions for setting up rear button AF. (Many folks are simply unable to decipher their camera body manuals.)

For many years I used both the shutter button and rear focus, depending on the situation. Often I got confused. I’d forget which was set on which camera. I’d press the shutter button and the camera did not focus. Or I’d press the rear button and the camera did not focus. About five years ago I gave up and went shutter button AF all the way spending half my time switching from AI Servo to One-Shot and back again…. Robert O’Toole has always used rear button focus and about a year ago he convinced me to make the switch full time. He believes that when the shutter is released that AF tracking may be momentarily interrupted but that when you use rear focus the camera continues to track well even when the shutter is released. Canon’s top tech reps are noncommittal but concede that it could be possible.

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This young skimmer was photographed at Nickerson Beach at 8:26 am on August 19 at Nickerson Beach with the tripod-mounted Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +2/3 stop: 1/1600 sec. at f/6.3 in Manual mode. Two sensors below the central sensor/Rear Focus AI Servo tracking AF. See more below.

Lens/Camera Body Micro-Adjustment: -4.

Making the change from the shutter button to rear focus requires a big commitment and takes lots of getting used to; it takes a bit of retraining of the brain and the thumb to get used to rear focusing.. But I have stuck with it for more than a year now and will never go back.

Aside from possibly better AI Servo AF tracking for flight photography there are other advantages to using rear focus. In short, you have the best of all worlds all the time. When using rear focus you always have AI Servo (Continuous for Nikon) set. You will never need to switch back and forth from AI Servo to One Shot. To photograph flying birds or to focus track walking, running, or swimming birds (or perched birds that are changing their posture or head position almost continuously simply press and hold the rear button to focus track that you have set for AF and press the shutter button when you want to create an image.

If you are limited to the central sensor when photographing a static bird like the Marbled Godwit above, you first place the active sensor on the subject’s eye, face or neck. Then you press the rear button too set the focus and then you release it. This effectively “locks” the focus–the system will not begin to focus until you press the rear button again. Now you can recompose without worrying that the system will focus. Finally you press the shutter button to make an image. If the bird moves or takes off you simply press and hold the rear button to activate AI Servo tracking AF. With rear focus you have the best of both worlds available at all times: you always have what effectively amounts to One Shot AF (by pressing and releasing the shutter button) and you always have AI Servo Tracking AF by pressing and holding the rear button.

Once I made the commitment to switch exclusively to rear button AF I stuck with it and have never looked back. I have it set 100% of the time with both my 800 and my 70-200. And I do feel that my percentage of sharp flight images with either lens has increased.

Hugely important note: when hand-holding and in many other situations where you are photographing a static bird and have access to all the AF sensors, it often makes sense to select a sensor that falls on the bird’s eye, face, head, or neck and push and hold the rear button. With the Marbled Godwit image above I had only the central sensor available so I needed to rear focus and re-compose.

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This BreezeBrowser screen capture shows what I mean by “two sensors below the central sensor” (in red). To create this image I pushed the rear button (I actually use the Star button) to acquire focus and held it in to track the bird. When the bird came into the zone I pressed the shutter button and held it down to create three or four images. This one was best by far.

Note the micro-adjustment and the perfect histogram. BreezeBrowser is the program that I use to edit (select the keepers) my images and to organize my image files both on my laptop and on the big computer in the office. If you are using a PC and you are not using BreezeBrowser you are wasting lots of time….


If you are not yet committed to entering the BIRDS AS ART 1st International Bird Photography Competition, do click here for details. Eleven great categories, $20,000+ worth of quality prizes, and the most liberal image optimization guidelines that you will find in any major contest.

Q (from Javier Martin): Is there a limit on how old is the image?

A: There are no date restrictions but all images must be from digital RAW captures. JPEG captures may of course be entered in the Digital Creations category: anything goes including the use of filters and effects.

Q (Jesper Bay Jacobsen of Denmark): Are you only allowed to participate with photos that have never been made public under any circumstances? For example, if I have posted some photos on my web site, or entered them in another contest, would these be accepted?

A: All digital images that were captured in RAW are eligible, even those that have been published in calendars, magazines, or on the web.

Q (from Robert Ward): If I read you correctly, every image entered must be exactly 1400×900 pixels, a fixed aspect ratio. In other words, these aren’t maximums, they are absolutes. 1400×800 would not be acceptable, 900×900 would not be acceptable, and so forth? If this is a correct reading, then WHY? With all the other editing rules so refreshingly liberal, why limit photographers to an arbitrary aspect ratio like this?

A: There are no restrictions or restraints on the proportions of an image. If you submit a vertical (or a square), please make it 900 pixels tall. If you submit a horizontal, please make it 1400 wide. Doing so makes viewing on our end very convenient.

Q (from Lisa Bolton): I am a beginner photographer but have captured a few good images of birds that I would like to submit for consideration. I did, however, shoot them as JPEGs. is that a problem? I know that I must submit them for initial consideration as JPEGs but that if they are selected I will need to send them as a RAW file. Am I able to convert an image from JPEG to RAW?

A: If an image is selected to be honored, it must have been from an original RAW capture (except for those entered in the Digital Creations category as noted above). It is not possible to convert a JPEG to RAW. Like all major contests we require the submission of RAW files for all honored images to prevent a very few unscrupulous folks from manipulating their images outside of the rules of the contest (which are quite liberal to begin with).

If you do not wish to be burdened by having to learn to convert RAW files I would suggest that you shoot Small Raw plus Large JPEG and work with the JPEGs. (Note: there are huge advantages of working from RAW files.) I do hope that you follow my suggestion and get out there and make some really good images. Part of the beauty of the competition is that–with the ease of learning digital photography–anyone can create a contest winning image.

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Here, a juvenile Willet is holding its sand crab breakfast while an adult Sanderling is hoping that the young bird drops its prey item. This image was created at 6:21 am on August 31, 2011 at Nicerkson Beach with the tripod-mounted Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +2/3 stop: 1/1600 sec. at f/6.3 in Manual mode. Single sensor lower right/Rear Focus AI Servo tracking AF. I was able to get the manually selected sensor on the Willet’s right (far) foot. I do wish that that Sanderling had been more parallel to the back of the camera.

Lens/TC/Camera Body Micro-Adjustment: -4.


Recently I have been putting 10+ hours a week towards making the blog informative, timely, and beautiful. Many of the educational features that formerly appeared in BAA Bulletins now grace the BAA Blog. If you have a problem subscribing, please contact us via e-mail. If you are not subscribed, you are missing a ton of great stuff three to four times a week. You can subscribe to the blog posts by clicking here. Below are a few links to recent posts of interest.

Huge News! The BIRDS AS ART 1st International Bird Photography Competition: Eleven great categories, $20,000+ worth of quality prizes, and the most liberal image optimization guidelines that you will find in any major contest.

Natural Design: A new, hugely popular e-book on composition and image design by Gloria Hopkins.

Size Does Matter; The Power of the Square of the Focal Length. If you are thinking of buying a longer lens, be sure to read this first. And remember to earn one or more free contest entries by using our B&H link to make your purchase.

“Juvie Sanderling: Capture, Clean-up and Cropping Lessons.” It’s hard to believe that you could learn so much from a single image.

“Surreal Hurricane Irene Experience.” This blog post is both a must-see and a must-read. Join me out on the beach on the afternoon of the storm.

“IPT Student Getting Too Good? Part I with Image Critiques.” Follow the continuing development of this skilled nature photographer. And learn from the 16 image critiques.


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Denise Ippolito will be conducting her superb slide program, “A Blend of Art and Nature” on the evening of Monday, September 12, 2011 for the New Haven Camera Club. The meeting, held at the Bethesda Lutheran Church, 450 Whitney Avenue, New Haven, CT, begins at 7:30pm and is open to the public.

You can see what she means by “a blend of art and nature” by checking out her “Sunflower Fields Forever” blog post here.

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This image was created on the morning of Sunday, September 4, 2011 with the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lens and the 1.4X III TC (hand held at 205mm) with the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV . ISO 100. Evaluative metering + 2 2/3 stops: 1/8 sec. at f/6.3 in Manual mode. Bottom row central sensor/rear-focus AI Servo AF.

Lens/camera body Micro-adjustment: -8.

For a greater appreciation of the image above, click on the photo to view a 1400 pixel wide version. Click on the enlarged version to close it.


My good friend, BAA posse member, oft co-leader, Photoshop guru, and Nikon and digital imaging expert, and very fine photographer Robert O’Toole has been pushing a new Jobu Jr. Head. I have seen various Jobu heads in the past and none of them were any good at all. The new one that Robert showed me is much better. I got to handle it on our recent Bear Boat IPT. The knob on the clamp is pitifully small, so small that I would not be caught dead using it. When I mentioned its tiny size to Robert he said, and I quote. “It sucks.” I much prefer the locking clamp on the Mongoose M3.6. And obviously so does Robert….

I have never and would never pitch a product that is less than ideal just to make a few bucks. I sell what I use and what I believe is best. Robert might wish to consider the above as good career advice. Other mail order outfits routinely offer a great variety of products, take tripods for example knowing all the while that the cheaper brands simply cannot compare to the Gitzo carbon fiber models that we offer (and that I use every day that I am out there).

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This image of a Semipalmated Sandpiper flapping after its bath was made at Nickerson Beach at 6:03pm on August 30, two days after Hurricane Irene. My big lens was on my Mongoose M3.6 head as usual. I lay behind my splayed, tripod-mounted Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with the 1.4X III TC and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1/3 stop (as framed): 1/800 sec. at f/10 in Manual mode. Central Sensor/Rear Focus AI Servo AF; release and wait for the jump!

Most time when trying to catch a shorebird jumping after its bath I would keep the rear button down and try to follow the bird. On this afternoon I tried something new. I focused on the bird with the rear button as it splashed about. Then I would release the rear button and re-frame higher as the birds almost always just flies straight up out of the water. When the bird jumped, I held the shutter button down for an image or two. Here this new trick worked to perfection. To be sure that you understand completely: I was not actively focusing when this image was created….

Lens/TC/Camera Body Micro-Adjustment: 0.


Robert O’Toole and I have 3 slots open on our first Homer Fall Bald Eagle IPT and due to a cancellation, one on the second trip. We are glad to offer blog folks a $200 late registration discount. If you like to photograph eagles you have not lived until you have been to Homer. Robert and I have photographed Homer both before and after the Jean Keene era. Few if any (aside from us) have mastered the latter….

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For each of the flight images in the composite, I pressed and held the rear button to focus track the birds in flight.

To see a 1024 pixels wide version, click on the photo above. Then click on the enlarged version to close it.

THE OCT/NOV 2011 HOMER-BASED BALD EAGLE IPTs with Arthur Morris and Robert O’Toole

OCT 25-29, 2011. Limit 10 (six photographers per boat)/Openings: 3). 5-FULL DAYS: $3399.

You will need to be in Homer no later than the evening of October 24.

OCT 30, 2011. Add-on day. Free if you sign up for both IPTs. Otherwise $550. (Limit 10/Openings: 1). If you are on the second trip and are doing the add-on day, you will need to be in Homer no later than the evening of October 29.

OCT 31-NOV 4, 2011. Limit 10 (six photographers per boat)/Openings: 1). 5-FULL DAYS: $3399.

You will need to be in Homer no later than the evening of October 30.

These trips are based in Homer, AK. We will enjoy virtually unlimited photographic action. Each year, most folks opted to miss at least one boat trip due to photographic exhaustion. Two great leaders provide both in-the-field and in-classroom instruction that will include at least two Photoshop sessions. Canon or Nikon we’ve got you covered. (In-the field instruction only on the Add-on day). A non-refundable deposit of $1,000 is required to hold your spot. Happy campers only. If we do not know you, you will be required to pass our Happy Camper test. Once you pass the Happy Camper test, please fill out and sign the forms here and send them along with your deposit check. Your registration will not be complete until we have your signed forms in hand.

Things you should know: At the last moment each morning we schedule–depending on tides and weather–either two 2-hour boat trips or one 4 hour boat trip each day of the tour (weather permitting). We do however often exceed those time limits when conditions warrant it. We gladly pick up the additional costs. You will not be charged extra for overtime no matter how extensive. On several days this year our two hour cruises went on for more than four hours; it is hard to sail away from great photography. We work a lot from from the boats and do, again depending on conditions, spend some time on land to do both perched and flying birds. Even with “only” four hours per day of photography you will head home exhausted with the best Bald Eagle images of your life (unless we encounter unexpectedly bad weather). We have chosen out dates carefully with regards to weather. Temps should be moderate to cold with a mix of sun, clouds, and possibly some drizzle. Snow is not likely on either trip. That said we are going to Alaska and there is always a chance, a very small chance, that it might pour every day that you are there. There will be as many or more eagles on these trips as there were on the March trips. We will be collecting a $20 per day tip for our captain guides at the end of each trip. Most folks opted to kick in additional and we were fine with that.

What’s included: lots of eagles and lots of instruction. Ground transportation from the motel to the dock. As above we cover all boat fees and boat-related expenses but for the tips. Breakfast at the motel. We may be able to pick you up at the airport to save you the cost of a cab. Note: some folks may wish to rent a vehicle so that they can photograph on their own during free and nap time. What’s not included: your round trip airfare from home to Homer. (Driving from Anchorage is recommended only for the adventurous….) The cost of your room. Meals other than breakfast.

To learn more about the Homer eagle experience, click on each link below:

Universal Advice for Better Flight Photography with a Zoom Lens
Finally, Finally, and Finally in Homer!
Enhancing Silhouettes
What Makes a Great Bird Portrait?
Insanity, Exhilaration, Exhaustion, and Home

And click here to read the last Homer IPT Report.

Please e-mail me at with any questions or call the office/home at 863-92-2806 (7am till 9pm eastern).

From Mike Landwehr: I had been itching to photograph eagles for years; the Homer IPT last March exceeded my expectations. We photographed eagles soaring, diving, perched, eating, fighting for perches, and fighting in mid-air. We photographed them against green water, blue water, shaded hillsides, and snow-capped mountain ranges. We photographed in the soft light of early morning, and were out in the evenings until after the sun dropped over the horizon. Robert was a super co-leader. The 70-200 f/2.8 II was brand new to me; I found that the 70-200 with the 1.4x TC on a 7D (I didn’t have a Mark IV) was a deadly combination for eagles in flight. The glaucous-winged gulls were a nice bonus–I love some of my photos of hovering gulls. If October in Homer is anything like March was, participants will want to take lots of memory cards!

(Note from artie: the OCT/NOV trips should be a bit better. Better weather on average, and the eagle’s tail feathers will not be as worn as they were in the spring.)

(ps to all: Be sure to check out one of Mike’s great images here. )

From Charlie Scheffold: I was on the March IPT. If I could, I would go back in a second! But there no way I could justify going twice in one year. Or could I? It was an incredible experience for a Bald Eagle fanatic like me. Do not hesitate to join artie and Robert. I will never forget the sound of a Bald Eagle’s feathers rustling in the wind as it soared 3 feet above my head. Ever.

Shopper’s Guide

Below is a list of the gear used to create the images in today’s Bulletin. Thanks a stack to all who have used the Shopper’s Guide links to purchase their gear as a thank you for all the free information that we bring you on the Blog and in the Bulletins. Before you purchase anything be sure to check out the advice in our Shopper’s Guide.

Support both the Bulletins and the Blog by making all your B & H purchases here.

Remember: you can earn free contest entries with your B & H purchases. Eleven great categories, 34 winning and honored images, and prize pools valued in excess of $20,000. Click here for details.

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lens. Man, I am loving this lens on my shoulder with the 2X III teleconverter. I also use it a lot with the 1.4X III TC.
Canon 800mm f/5.L IS lens. Right now this is my all time favorite super-telephoto lens.
Canon 1.4X III Teleconverter. Designed to work best with the new Series II super-telephoto lenses.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV professional digital camera body. My two Mark IVs are my workhorse digital camera bodies.

And from the BAA On-line Store:

LensCoats. I have a LensCoat on each of my big lenses to protect them from nicks and thus increase their re-sales value. All my big lens LensCoat stuff is in Hardwood Snow pattern.
LegCoat Tripod Leg Covers. I have four tripods active and each has a Hardwood Snow LegCoat on it to help prevent further damage to my tender shoulders 🙂
Gitzo GT3530LS Tripod. This one will last you a lifetime.
Mongoose M3.6 Tripod Head. Right now this is the best tripod head around for use with lenses that weigh less than 9 pounds. For heavier lenses, check out the Wimberley V2 head.
CR-80 Replacement Foot for Canon 800. When using the 800 on a Mongoose as I do, replacing the lens foot with this accessory lets the lens sit like a dog whether pointed up or down and prevents wind-blown spinning of your lens on breezy days by centering the lens directly over the tripod.
Double Bubble Level. You will find one in my camera’s hot shoe whenever I am not using flash.
Be sure to check out our camera body User’s Guides here.
The Lens Align Mark II. I use the Lens Align Mark II pretty much religiously to micro-adjust all of my gear an average of once a month and always before a major trip. Enjoy our free comprehensive tutorial here.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV User’s Guide. Learn to use your Mark IV the way that I use mine.

Delkin 32gb e-Film Pro Compact Flash Card. These high capacity cards are fast and dependable. Clicking on the link below will bring you to the Delkin web site. There is lots of great stuff there. If you see a product that we do not carry let us know via e-mail; we will be glad to have it drop-shipped to you and save you a few bucks in the process.

I pack my 800 and tons of other gear in my ThinkTank Airport SecurityTM V2.0 rolling bag for all of my air travel and recommend the slightly smaller Airport InternationalTM V2.0 for most folks. These high capacity bags are well constructed and protect my gear when I have to gate check it on short-hops and puddle jumpers. Each will protect your gear just as well. By clicking on either link or the logo below, you will receive a free gift with each order over $50.

2 comments to BIRDS AS ART BULLETIN #384

  • avatar Mervyn Lowe

    Hi Arthur,

    first off let me say you’re an inspiration. I can only hope to be just half as good a bird photographer as you.

    Regarding rear button focus, on the Canon 1D MkIV did you ever try shutter button focus with the AF-ON button customised to stop AF? If so, how do you think it compares (regardless of whether or not using the shutter button interrupts AF)?


    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Mervyn. I have never tried to use the AF-Onn button to stop AF so I cannot compare it to anything :). I no longer use any form of AF stop. later and love, artie