Bald eagles

A recent article in The Calgary Herald mentioned a big influx of Bald Eagles along the Bow River in Calgary, with as many as 20 being viewed on some days. This is probably due to less freeze up occurring on the Bow in the City itself, keeping open water available for waterfowl, the eagles main prey.

Since the beginning of December I have been closely following two of these eagles as they build their nest in a tall cottonwood tree situated on a small island in the Bow,

Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) delivers nest material, Calgary, Carburn Park, Alberta, Canada

Nikon D850, Nikon 500mm f4 lens on Gitzo tripod with Flexshooter head, 1/1600 sec @ f5.6, ISO 500. Exposure set manually with auto ISO selected

Baldies are among the first birds to begin the nesting process each year, often adding layer upon layer to nests from previous years until the nest can become too big for the tree to support.

Although regarded as a top predator, in fact bald eagles are an opportunistic hunter, regularly stealing prey from other birds, feeding on old carcasses. Scavenging roadkill, can prove disastrous as many are subsequently hit by passing traffic.

Two Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) feeding on a duck carcass on an ice flow in Bow River, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Nikon D850, Nikon 500mm f4 lens with TC 14 converter (effective length 700mm) on Gitzo tripod with Flexshooter head, 1/3200 sec @ f6.3, ISO 400. Exposure set manually with auto ISO selected

Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) places a nest stick, Calgary, Carburn Park, Alberta, Canada

Nikon D850, Nikon 500mm f4 lens with TC 14 converter (effective length 700mm) on Gitzo tripod with Flexshooter head, 1/3200 sec @ f5.6, ISO 500. Exposure set manually with auto ISO selected

It is evident from sightings reported to e.bird.org run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, that numbers of bald eagles are on the increase, a far cry from being placed on the endangered species list in 1973 due to illegal hunting,, habitat destruction and the disastrous effects of DDT which caused the birds to lay non-viable eggs due to very this shells, a problem associated with the decline of many birds of prey around the same time.

Long may then continue to increase in numbers as it is always a thrill to see these birds soaring along the rivers and lakes of Canada.

Photography tips

Only adult bald eagles have the white head – forming in their third year. The big difference in dynamic range between the white head and the dark body means it is essential to get your exposure correct so as not to blow out the highlights on the white feathers. I generally choose to set the exposure manually but use auto ISO to compensate for changing light conditions. I generally set my auto IOS to go no higher than 2000 as this is the level at which the D850 begins to exhibit more noise than I find acceptable. Lower resolution cameras can tolerate much higher ISO

Bald eagles are big birds, which fly relatively slowly, making flight images quite easy. However a few things to be aware of. Because they are big they have a huge wingspan, (between 6′ to 7.5′) so watch your depth of field, it is very easy to get the wing tips out of focus so close down a stop or two to add that little bit of depth.

Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in flight carrying nesting stick, Calgary, Carburn Park, Alberta, Canada

Nikon D850, Nikon 500mm f4 lens with TC 14 converter (effective length 700mm) on Gitzo tripod with Flexshooter head, 1/2000 sec @ f6.3, ISO 250. Exposure set manually with auto ISO selected

Even though they are relatively slow you still need fast shutter speed to freeze the motion of flight. I recommend at least 1/2000sec. Make sure you pick up your subject as early as possible to lock the autofocus and pan quickly. I use a tripod and Flexshooter head for most of my birds in flight images, unless I can get really close to use a shorter lens.

For autofocus I generally use dynamic area AF set to 9 or 25 AF points. For static birds I tend to switch to single point AF so that I can lock the single point on the subjects eye.

New website design – Photoshelter out, Photodeck in.

After a great deal of consideration and hours spent on the internet I have finally decided to use the Covid down time to make some fundamental changes to my website and archive system. So, it’s Photoshelter out and Photodeck in.

Photoshelter v Photodeck

First, there is nothing actually wrong with Photoshelter and I have used their services for a very long time to both present my photo galleries and provide a searchable database of my images. But, that first sentence contains an important snippet, ‘a very long time’. And that is precisely the time period where really little has changed in the Photoshelter presentation.

Photoshelter have made some steps forward, particularly with regard to SEO performance but, my site is visited mainly to view my images, purchase prints, and by editors looking for illustrative images for books, magazines, newspapers etc. Therefore of prime importance to me is how are my images presented on the site front page, in the galleries and in search results.

This is where Photoshelter has fallen behind. The gallery presentations are now very tired looking, every gallery is exactly the same, just a block of identical thimbnails, with nothing very dynamic looking. I was therefore very excited when Photoshelter announced back in October 2019 that, as the result of a client survey, they had a roadmap forward with exciting new designs, a better shopping cart, and an ‘overhaul client galleries with a modern, user-friendly interface’ among other things.

Well we are going to see new web templates in August 2020. Then in June we heard things were slipping behind, Ok, no problem development takes time and hits some problems, but we did get a new Photoshelter logo! So an announcement in October heralds progress? Nope, another update that it’s more difficult than first anticipated. November, another announcement just tells us these exciting things are coming!

Now we begin 2021 and to cut a long story short as we enter February we still have no new website designs. I fully understand that Covid-19 must have had a profound effect on the ability to deliver but I finally began looking for an alternative and came across Photodeck.

For me the biggest advantage of Photodeck is the modern presentation of the overall websites and galleries, super speed for search results and the amount of customization available in website designs. Last but not least is the ability, once you have finalized your site design, to output a WordPress theme which makes the blog mimic the same look as the main site for a seamless experience.

Admittedly there is a bit of a learning curve in moving to a new platform, but after a couple of days I started to get the hang of it and was quickly able to get a new site up and running.

You will find many new images in the galleries that have not been presented before and every day more images are being added to the stock availability which you can find using the search function.

Most images are available as prints in a range of sizes and media, professionally printed and delivered directly to you, and as licensed downloads for a variety of uses.

Prices for Photodeck and Photoshelter are almost identical for most people who are likely to use the Standard subscription model at $25 per month with 100GB storage (thats around high resolution 20,000 jpeg images) Ecomerce is also completely free of any additional charges with Photodeck compared to 10% transaction fees on Photoshelter.

You can give Photodeck a try with a fully functional 14 day trial period at www.photodeck.com Furthermore, if you decide Photodeck fits your need anter the code YG@UESDHW at checkout with your first subscription and receive 50% off your first month.

Capture One 21

Capture One 21 was launched a week ago as the latest iteration of my favourite RAW processing software.

So, lets get one thing out of the way immediately – are the new features worth upgrading from version 20? In reality, even though this remains my post processing software, I don’t think so. When a software gets an upgraded name I expect there will be many new features, and version 21 is a bit of a disappointment.

I understand why the need to produce a version 21, after all we are nearly at the end of 2020 ad it would look a little strange to continue with the 20 numbering as we enter the new year. However, that is a marketing situation, and the new features are, in my opinion, really version 20.1, not version 21.

So, that being said, what have we actually got for our money.

New features

Speed editing

Speed editing allows you to use modifier keys and drag left or right and up and down to make adjustments. For example, to change the exposure value, hold down the Q key on your keyboard and an exposure tab will open under the image. You can adjust the exposure by mouse dragging left ad right.

OK, this does allow me to keep my eye on the image I am editing and not have to go looking for the adjustment sliders, and may be marginally quicker. Is it a huge new feature? Probably not for me, but may be for some users.

Q – adjusts exposure
W- adjusts contrast
E – adjust brightness
R – adjust saturation

A – adjusts highlight
S – adjusts shadow
W- adjusts white
E – adjust black

Z – adjusts clarity
S – adjusts RGB shadow
W- adjusts RGB midtone
E – adjust RGB highlight

You should by now have realized these modifier keys are the first 4 keys on each line of the left end of a standard keyboard. As with almost everything else in Capture One, if you don’t like these modifiers you can change them to suit your own taste.

Dehaze

Adobe Lightroom has had a dehaze tool for a while. Capture One has now added this. Yes, it’s a useful edition, but it’s also true to say that you could always dehaze an image, and still can, with far greater control by using a mask on the layer to dehaze, and adjusting the  clarity, contrast, brightness and the shadow point.

Pro standard profile

Version 21 has introduced new camera profiles with more to be added soon. The new profiles should provide a sightly more true to life rendering of RAW images. I have looked at images from my D850 in both the Generic D850 and D850 Prostandard and there is a small difference in the colours that should give a better starting point for colour grading.

Learn

Capture one now boasts a built-in range of help screens and videos to assist photographers in using the various tools. Helpful no doubt for a short while while learning the program but of limited use to seasoned users.

Faster asset management

Now we come to the feature that I have been most concerned about in previous versions, the speed of searches and browsing through catalogs. Search speed has for long been outstripped by Adobe Lightroom, and when you have huge catalogs as I do, that I regularly need to find a particular image within, it has often been a frustrating exercise. Well, this has been addressed in the latest version and searches zip along at about the same speed as in Lightroom. Score one for Capture One 21!

In addition importing new images has been much improved, now allowing import from multiple folders at the same time. High resolution previews are generated much quicker now allowing one to start work on images much sooner when ingesting a large folder of images as I often have to do – score two for Capture One 21!

Hopefully in the coming months there will be some additional features that will make me feel better about the upgrade price. However, as I have mentioned before, Capture One is still my RAW processing software choice and I believe will continue to be so.

If you have not tried Capture One then download a fully working 30 day trial coy here

 

Clean up your images with Topaz Denoise AI

Each new generation of digital camera has improved its control of digital noise in high ISO images. None the less I have always found it necessary to do a certain amount of noise control in post processing with most images shot at 1600 or above. For the last few years I have used NIK filters Dfine as an external noise reduction filter for high ISO images and been reasonably happy with the results. Recently there has been a big advertising push online from Topaz Labs plugins and a lot of positive reviews, particularly for Topaz Denoise AI, so I thought I would download the free trial and give it a go.

To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement! All noise reduction software that I had tried in the past had always led to some softening in detail areas and a slight reduction in apparent sharpness. This includes both external plugins and the noise reduction built into Lightroom and Capture One.

Topaz Denoise, does not cause a lack of sharpness, in fact it seems to somehow enhance sharpness. The AI stands for Artificial Intelligence, and it certainly hits the mark. However, you are not stuck with the AI version to remove noise from your image. You can manually adjust the settings should you wish to do so. I am not a great fan of automatic adjustments by software on an image but this is certainly the exception. I rarely have to use any manual changes, simply setting Auto and letting Toopaz do it’s thing.

Topaz Denoise before and after
Topas Denoise shows a before and after view before you commit to the changes. This Ring-billed gull was shot at ISO 1100, 1/2000th f6.3, Nikon D850 with Nikon 500mm f4 and TC14 converter, (effective focal length 700mm, handheld. Note how the background noise has been smoothed and feather detail and the eye enhanced

Workflow

It is important to note that Topaz Denoise AI does not work with RAW files. You must output a pixel based image before applying. You therefore need to apply all your adjustments in your RAW processor, before outputting a TIFF or PSD file for denoise work.

My workflow is now to cull, caption and keyword in Photomechanic, Process RAW file in Capture One 20, output a 16bit TIFF and open in Photoshop. Here I make any further adjustments necessary and finally apply Topaz Denoise. If I do not require any Photoshop adjustments I open the TIFF file directly from Capture One and apply Topaz.

Speed

Topaz Denoise is not the speediest of processors. If I am applying to a full size D850 image it can take around 30 seconds to complete it’s task. However, I think this is a small price to pay for a super clean output. In any case I only apply this process to my best images as part of outputting them for final use.

Texas Rangers Delino DeShields narrowly misses getting hit by a ball. Nikon D4s with 500mm f4, 1/1250 @f4 ISO 4000

Click on the images to view a full size file that more clearly shows the noise reduction.

Downloaded Topaz Denoise as a fully working 30 day trial and purchsed for $79.99 at https://topazlabs.com

Full circle

In October 1998 I, along with my wife Jean, emigrated to Canada from our previous home in France, and settled in Calgary. In great part our decision to come to Calgary was pre-ordained as we had been attending one of the world’s major equestrian events, The Masters Showjumping, at Spruce Meadows, for many years before we decided to make Calgary our new home.

A lot has happened in the years between 1998 and today. We spent three years in Calgary before the yearning to have a bit more land took hold and we headed on to Courtenay in British Columbia. From there it was Florida USA, back to British Columbia, a couple of years in Toronto, again a return to BC, Lake Chapala Mexico, Nova Scotia and now, as I sit typing this from a hotel room in Banff, we are waiting to move into our new home back in Calgary.

Evening storm approaches Banff, Canadian Rockies, Canada

When we drove back into Alberta, and particularly over the past few days revisiting some our old haunts in Banff National Park, (despite the restrictions caused by covid) it has felt like we have come home, full circle!

Castle Mountain from the Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

I will now have the opportunity to spend time in the mountains and prairies photographing wildlife and also get back into shooting some major sport. That’s assuming that covid 19 is ever mastered to the point of having a major sporting program.

This year has hit many sports photographers really hard. I myself should have just returned from working six weeks at the Tokyo Olympics and we all know how that turned out. Who knows if we will be in Tokyo in 2021? Without an effective vaccine it looks a slim possibility.

So, as soon as we are settled into our new home I will concentrate on the wildlife side of my work while I wait for the sports world to get back to some sort of normality. Look out for new daily images on Instagram, (my feed has been very quiet while we have been in the process of moving).

Bighorn Sheep, Mount Norquay, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Workshops and field trips

I will also soon be announcing my workshop series for 2021. This will include some software workshops concentrating on improving photographers workflow and processing images using Capture One. More details on these will be posted shortly. Capture One is now the only software I use for processing RAW files. Occasionally a file will get passed to Photoshop for some final work but this is a rarity.

I will also be organizing some field trips for photographers starting in Spring 2021. Out of Covid 19 necessity these will be locally based around Southern Alberta. Until the situation eases I will not be organizing any non-Canadian workshops.