May 7th, 2009

Birds As Art Bulletin #289



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Painted Bunting, male at water feature, Cozad Ranch, Linn, TX
Image Copyright 2009: Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART
For technical info and comments on this image, or to see the original, click here.


We are proud to announce the opening of the new BIRDS AS ART On-Line Store. The store was created by Blake Shadle and was stocked and tested by Jim Litzenberg and Jennifer Morris. The store was designed to make your on-line shopping efficient and completely hassle-free. While everyone has worked very hard to create a convenient mail order marketplace a few glitches and growing pains are to be expected so please bear with us for a bit. If you need product information or advice or help with your on-line purchases, do of course call us at 863-692-0906 during regular business hours.

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Northern Parula singing, Dauphin Island, AZ
Image Copyright 2009: Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART
Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens, 25mm Extension tube to allow for closer focusing, and the EOS-1D MIII. ISO 800. Evaluative metering +1/3 stop: 1/100 sec. at f/5.6. Fill flash at -3 stops with Better Beamer.

Chris Dodds and I attracted this bird to our position by playing the bird’s song with an I-pod/speaker set-up. Where permitted, the trick is to play the song judiciously (not too long, not too loud, and only where permitted) and to turn it off when the bird comes to investigate. Perhaps one in ten birds will come in to the speaker which should be placed near an attractive perch.

At 1/100 sec. I knew that I would not get the bill sharp when the bird was singing. In the original here, the lower mandible showed considerable motion blur. I had another image in the series where the bird had its head back but was not singing. I made a Quick Mask of the lower mandible from that frame, placed it atop the blurred lower mandible, and transformed and warped it so that it fit perfectly. You can learn the basics of Quick Masking in our Digital Basics File ( and the advanced techniques in APTATS (


I have driven from South Texas to mid-Ohio and will arrive in Leamington, Ontario this afternoon, May 7 where I will hook up (again) with Chris Dodds. Though warblers have been few and far between, several Texas ranches yielded some great songbird images. All BAA subscribers are urged to visit the blog for the complete and sometimes hilarious (Driving Miss Artie) story of the trip: It’s all there from our somewhat challenging start in Florida, our great days on Dauphin Island, AL, Golden-cheeked Warbler at Los Madrones in Texas Hill Country (, Green Jay Heaven on Roel Ramirez’s ranch in Roma, TX (contact Roel at if you would like to try and arrange a visit), and lastly, to Painted Bunting Heaven, the Cozad Ranch in Linn, TX in the Rio Grande Valley (

Though I had planned to visit South Padre Island on this trip in hopes of finding some warblers and other migrant songbirds, the strong and relentless southeast winds were not what you want for a fallout. I am hoping for a cold front here soon on the upper Texas coast to knock some birds out of the sky at nearby Sabine Woods. I am hoping that my you-should-have-been-here-yesterday warbler luck will change at Point Pelee….

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Golden-cheeked Warbler, Los Madrones, Hill Country, TX
Image Copyright 2009: Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART
For the technical info and comments on this image, click here:


I receive several e-mails each week from folks who state that this camera does not focus properly or that that lens is not sharp. In 99% of the cases I am sure that operator error rather than equipment malfunction is the cause. That said, on rare occasion, folks using quality equipment from Canon of Nikon do experience real problems with focusing accuracy.

If you are handholding, please do not complain about unsharp images. I was walking around in Sabine Woods late yesterday afternoon. It was cloudy dark. I was working at ISO 800 with shutter speeds of about 1/60th second and even slower at times. There were two folks walking around handholding 500 f/4 lenses; they might as well have gone fishing as there was no way that they could create a sharp image without a tripod in those conditions. It is best to work on a tripod at all times when using your longest lens (unless you are handholding for flight or for action).

Another factor to consider is that most of the folks who write complaining of unsharp image are using cameras with 1.6X or 1.5X multiplier effects. They need to realize that these cameras multiply vibrations and movement caused by operator error by the square of the equivalent focal length!

If you are using a tripod you need to check and note the shutter speeds of your unsharp images. I had one guy on an IPT complaining that none of his images were sharp. I checked his set-up and saw that he was working in near darkness at ISO 100 with shutter speeds in the 1/8 to 1/15 second range. Making sharp images with a long lens at such slow shutter speeds is simply not possible for most folks. When working at long effective focal lengths I am confident that I can make sharp images down to 1/60 second as long as I have time to lock the tripod head and provided that the bird does not move during the exposure. With the prime lenses alone, I can usually get down to 1/30 second. With the relatively new Canon 800mm lens and its new 4-stop IS system, I have made some sharp images at shutter speeds as slow as 1/6 sec.

Below are two simple tests to determine if you have faulty equipment.

  1. Tape a sheet of newspaper to a sunlit outdoor wall on a relatively still day. Make sure that it is as taped down as flat as possible. (A magazine cover with fine print or a plastic or cardboard test chart are of course better options.) Mount your telephoto rig on a tripod. Lock down the tripod and the lens collar. Make sure that you are beyond the minimum focusing distance of your lens and that the distance range switch (if your lens has one) is set to full. Make a few images at the wide open aperture using both One-Shot or AI Servo with Canon gear or Single (S) or Continuous (C) with Nikon. Then do the same thing at f/8. As long as the wall is sunlit you will have more than enough shutter speed to know that your focusing issues are not caused by too-slow shutter speeds. Now download your images and check them for accurate focusing. If all of the images are sharp, then you can be sure that your unsharp images were being caused by operator error.
  2. Stand well off a somewhat busy road with the sun angled so that the approaching vehicles are coming right down sun angle. Use the wide open aperture and choose an ISO that results in shutter speeds greater than 1/2000 sec. Choose AI Servo (Canon) or Continuous (Nikon) and select the center AF sensor. As the cars approach, place the central sensor on the license plate and hold the shutter button down once focus is acquired. Even this simple task requires some practice so be sure to take lots of images. Download the images and sort them into two groups: sharp on the license plate and unsharp on the license plate. Now using an application that allows you to see the position of the active focusing sensor, in this case the central sensor, note the position of the sensor in the unsharp images. If the sensor is consistently on the license plate and the images are unsharp, then you likely have equipment problems. You can repeat this test with various camera bodies and various lenses in an effort to determine the cause of the problem. When you are pretty sure that you have an equipment problem it is best to send the gear to the manufacturer along with a CD of the test images.

In most cases, folks will learn that their equipment is perfectly fine but that their poor sharpness techniques are the cause of the unsharp images. Do also realize the importance of subject movement. While working at the Cozad Ranch probably well more than half of my images were unsharp. This was due in most cases to subject movement. In other cases, the unsharp images were a result of the AF system being unable to maintain sharp focus on the tiny songbirds as they leaped off of their perches. It is important to understand and to realize the limitations of our equipment. INTERVIEW

While at the Spacecoast Festival in Merritt Island this past January I was interviewed by Steve Moore of You can listen to that interview (along with 3 other quite interesting chats including one with birder/bird-watcher/author Pete Dunne) by clicking here: You can either listen to it directly off the site or download it to your computer, I-pod or similar listening device.


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BIRDS AS ART prouldy announces the limited sale of a classic Arthur Morris image, “Fire in the Mist.”

This spectacular image was created at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Reefuge in San Antonio, New Mexico. It was honored in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition and was selected as cover art for “Light on the Earth,” a collection of the best of 30 years of winning entries.

The thick gallery wrap (1 ½ inches) canvas is hand-made in the US under the supervision of the artist and is available only through BIRDS AS ART.

This will be the first of a series of Arthur Morris’ digitally signed, numbered, limited edition gallery-wrapped canvas prints. The canvas is stretched over custom-made wood supports. The canvas has no frame and appears to float on the wall. There’s no need for a frame for stability since the structure is inside the art. These fine canvas limited edition prints are covered with a rear black dust cover. The hanging wire is neatly attached and a courtesy package with two clear bump-ons, a nickel plated hanger and nail are included.

This edition will be limited to 100 pieces of any size. Once the final print is sold the edition will be permanently closed making each Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART print a valuable collectible. Each 16 x 24 inch print is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity.

The first fifty prints will sell for only $349 plus $20 shipping and handling to all US addresses. Once 50 prints are sold, the price will rise to $424. The last five prints will sell for $499. (Please e-mail for prices on other sizes and for framing options.)

Prints ordered before June 1, 2009 may apply a $50 discount. The first batch of prints will be shipped no later than June 15th, 2009.

Shipping and handling to Canada will require an additional $35 handling fee. (Canadian orders may be subject to Customs delays and duties and require payment via personal check or money order in US funds.)

Each image will be professionally packed to avoid damage during transit. All fees are due and payable in advance in US funds. (We cannot be responsible for delays at customs.)

Payment may be by check or money order mailed to Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART PO Box 7245, Indian Lake Estates, FL 33855, by Paypal to, or by credit card. Please call 863-692-0906 for credit card orders.

We offer a 100% money back guarantee. If for any reason you are not completely satisfied we will gladly accept a return for exchange or refund provided that the item is returned within seven days of receipt and is in saleable condition. We refund only the purchase price plus the shipping and handling. Return shipping is the responsibility of the customer. This guarantee does not include prints that you damage or that are damaged in shipping. If your print is damaged in shipping, please let us know and we will arrange to have a replacement sent. Please allow 14 days for your check to clear.

We are 100% positive that “Fire in the Mist” will become a collector’s item; thank you for your support of Artie’s work.


Who has not dreamed of photographing the coastal grizzlies at close range as they go about their daily business? If you are at all interested in joining me for the trip of a lifetime, please e-mail ( or call me at 863-692-0906.

Do check out the brand new Katmai Bear Boat Gallery here: If you do not think that you can make this trip, it would be best not to look at the gallery….

Bear Boat #1: June 4-10, 2009: $6749.

(Please call for late registration discount info: 863-221-2372). Openings: 3. (It is advised that you be in Anchorage on the afternoon of June 2nd to be assured of not missing the boat!). This trip will feature an afternoon (and possibly more) of otter photography (weather permitting), Bald Eagles with chicks in the nest probable, puffins possible, and lots and lots of coastal Brown Bears clamming and eating luscious green grass. Football sized cubs and copulations possible. One-and two year old cubs likely.

Bear Boat #2: Sept 4-10, 2009$6999.

Openings: 3. (It is advised that you be in Anchorage on the afternoon of the September 2nd to be assured of not missing the boat!). This one is the bears catching salmon trip. In addition, Glaucous-winged and Mew Gulls eating roe are a certainty. Dark phase Northern Fulmars and Black-legged Kittiwakes (including the gorgeous immatures), Harbor Seals, and Stellar’s Sea Lions are likely. Did I mention bears catching salmon? And more bears catching salmon?

If you are curious about either of the bear trips or have any questions and would like to explore the possibility of joining me for the trip of a lifetime, please e-mail ( or call me at 863-221-2372. I will do my very best to make it happen.


The first update to The Hummingbird Guide – How to Photograph Hummingbirds Using High-Speed Multiple Flash by Linda Robbins (with Arthur Morris) was e-mailed yesterday. Several of the updates were kicked back; if you purchased the Guide and did not receive your update, please e-mail Linda at

To learn more about this great educational guide, click here:


I am thrilled to announce that Photoshop guru Tim Grey will be leading the SW FLA President’s Week IPT this in February 2009. Please see item next for details.


I will be teaching fewer and fewer IPTs each year. If you want to learn from the very best, do consider signing up ASAP.


“The Complete Bosque Experience.” NOV 21-27, 2009. Slide program on the evening of Friday, NOV 20. 7-FULL DAYS: $3199. Limit: 10/Openings: 4. Co-leaders Scott Bourne and others TBA.


Slide program on the evening of FEB 9. Slide program on the evening of FEB 11. 6-FULL DAYS: $2799. Limit: 10/Openings: 7. Co-leaders: Tim Grey, and Alfred and Fabiola Forns. 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 is required to hold a spot for each BAA IPT, Photo-Cruise, or Photo-Safari. 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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