Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

 

Brad Hill: Blog: Q2 2007 (Aprilish to Juneish)

Short-winded blatherings on whatever is currently occupying the part of my brain that deals with photography. Updated sorta weekly.

26 June 2007: Goodbye to the dicky bird seaon...oops - what's that I see?

Last weekend I watched while three Mountain Bluebirds left their cozy nest and took their first flight. I had hoped that they would fly only a few feet and land on a perch where the parents would feed them (and I could photograph the proceedings). Fat chance - they came out of the nest box like they were jet powered and flew over 75 metres before setting down. Impressive first flight. Maybe it took them a few seconds to figure out how to land, so they had to stay aloft while figuring out how the landing gear worked!

Anyway...I assumed that their fledging would mark the end of my songbird shooting season. But no sooner did the kids leave the nest when a pair of Tree Swallows moved in (literally minutes later). And then I stumbled upon another Bluebird nest with eggs in it. And then I almost tripped over another active swallow nest. And then a flicker cavity. And then a sapsucker cavity. So...dicky bird season isn't over for my camera yet. So...prepare to see my "Latest Images Gallery" filled with dicky birds for a little while longer!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

21 June 2007: On My Soapbox...

Uh oh...it's that time again - time to climb on my soapbox. Tired of ho-hum bird images? Looking to take that next step in your bird photography? Check out the field notes (the "In the Field" tab) associated with this "fluffed out" Mountain Bluebird for a few key suggestions about how to improve your bird shots.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

18 June 2007: Bear Gallery Grows by Six Images

I just got around to adding six new images to the Bear Gallery. Regular visitors to the "Latest Additions" gallery might recognize one of the images, but the other 5 have never appeared on this website before. Check the images out, starting right here.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

13 June 2007: Songbird Gallery Grows by Six Images

I've just added a half dozen images to the Songbird Gallery. Regular visitors to the "Latest Additions" gallery will recognize some of the images, but others have never been seen before. The images begin here - check them out!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

07 June 2007: For Sale: Nikon AFS 300 mm f/2.8 G ED-IF VR Prime Lens

I've decided to put my coveted 300 mm f/2.8 VR lens up for sale. Why? At what price? Check my Gear 4 Sale page for all the info!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

05 June 2007: New Limited Edition Print Available on Thursday, June 7

The newest addition to my collection of Limited Edition Prints will be available beginning on Thursday, June 7th. The image entitled "Intensity - Defined!" is of a strikingly-coloured male Tree Swallow with piercing eyes and amazingly detailed plumage. It's offered as a 14" x 19" print mounted on fine canvas. The image was recently critiqued on Nature Photographers Online Magazine and received rave reviews. Only 25 prints will be offered for sale, and the first 4 are already spoken for (which, according to my math, means only 21 are left).

Where can you see the print? You can view it online here. Or, you can download my complete catalogue of Limited Edition Prints (PDF file; 4.5 MB) and have a look at it there.

Want to see the real McCoy? In Calgary, AB you can view the print at Prints Charming. In Invermere, BC the print is on display at Interior World. Full contact information for these authorized retailers is available here. Hot.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

04 June 2007: New Super Zoom Coming From Nikon?

There's been a rumour circulating for a week or so about a new super-telephoto zoom coming from Nikon. The rumour-monging web page contains a real or mocked-up JPEG ad/press-release about a 100-500 mm f4-5.6 VR III zoom lens. The bullet points associated with the pictured lens contains every Nikon buzzword possible, including reference to a brand new "VR III" which offers the equivalent of using a shutter speed 5.5 stops faster "...when used with compatible camera bodies incorporated with Nikon's O.B. VR technology". Huh?

My take on it? I think someone is messing with our minds and the rumour is completely false. If it IS true, it would be a strange move from Nikon - there's just too much overlap in this lens and their already strongly selling (and very excellent) 200-400 f4 VR lens. A 600 mm f4 VR prime lens would make more sense and I'm guessing this is coming soon (which might be wishful thinking on my part).

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

31 May 2007: Nature Photographers Online Magazine - a GREAT Service!

Although knowing about it for a couple of years, I joined the Nature Photographers Network just yesterday (I wanted to join earlier but made myself wait until I had "completed" this website - sort of a carrot in front of my nose!). Great website, great service, and a real welcoming group of folks. Among other things, the website offers an innovative Photo Gallery that functions as a Photo Critique Forum. The Photo Gallery is very active with lots of great images being added by the minute. Image critiques and forums can be "dicey" - I've seen ones where the input from the "critics" has been somewhat less than professional. But not this one - just awesome.

But the Nature Photographers Network's website (called Nature Photographers Online Magazine) is not just a one-trick pony. The site also offers discussion forums, a gift shoppe, photo portfolios (for members), interesting articles and Reviews, and more. This is a true NETWORK and many serious photographers use it as an effective networking/marketing tool.

How much does it cost to join? Zero, nothing, el zippo. I highly recommend this website and encourage nature photographers of all level to join the Nature Photographers Network.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

31 May 2007: DUMB Mistake - Just Grin and (Black) Bear It!

Our "cabin-and-within-weeks-our-full-time-home" is in a very rural setting in southeast British Columbia. How rural? Well there is a town of 800 about 3 kilometres to the southeast, but you can go around 100 km to the west before hitting anything resembling human civilization. Not surprisingly, we have bears around - both Black Bears and Grizzly (Brown) Bears. And I have bird feeders. And I KNOW to take them down in the spring. And it looks like this year we're going to have a bumper crop of bears (I've encountered them in 4 of 5 recent walks from our cabin). I should have taken the feeders down last week - but I was rushed when leaving the cabin. Well, now I don't have to - a very helpful and thoughtful bear disassembled them for me! And, somehow, while the carnage looked overwhelming at first, the bruin was actually very gentle and the actual damage to the feeding stations was minimal (total replacement cost of parts and pieces will be about $100). Dumb! Guess I'll just have to grin and bear it...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

22 May 2007: Looking for Reasons to Shoot in the RAW?

If you own a digital SLR and are still shooting JPEG's, then you're probably not getting the most out of your camera. I shoot RAW images exclusively. Why? My Top 3 Reasons for Shooting the RAW are outlined in the commentary I posted today. Check it out!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

22 May 2007: Light Crafts Releases LightZone 3.0

Light Craft released a major update to their zone-system based RAW conversion and image-editing software today. LightZone 3.0 features a new interface, "Intelligent Styles", several new tools, updated RAW support for new dSLR's, new asset management capabilities, new integrated batch capabilities, and more. I began using LightZone in December 2006 and consider it a wonderful compliment to Adobe Photoshop. I look forward to spending time with the latest version. A 30-day trial version and additional information can be found on Light Craft's website.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

21 May 2007: Songbird Shooting Season is On!

I've declared the "Songbird Shooting Season" (with cameras ONLY, of course) officially open on our little portion of paradise in the East Kootenays of British Columbia. Given that I'm the only one shooting on our property, there's little need for a marketing blitz to herald in this momentous occasion. All it really means is that in the next month to six weeks my nearly exclusive prey will be small, skittish "dicky" birds. And, the Latest Additions Gallery will, in all likelihood, be dominated by images of songbirds. So...if you like shooting pictures of songbirds, check the Latest Additions Gallery over the next while for helpful tips and tricks on how to capture memorable songbird images...

This year's main targets? My final list is still being developed and will evolve over the next few weeks (as I discover additional breeding territories, nests and nest cavities, photogenic perches, etc.) but Mountain Bluebirds, Tree Swallows and Vesper Sparrows are near the top of the list. Not far behind are Chipping Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Spotted Towhees. And whatever else I find...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

16 May 2007: Bokeh Defined - With an Example

I give seminars on various topics in photography on a quasi-regular basis. In many seminars the topic of "bokeh" comes up - either I bring it up or an attendee asks me "just what is bokeh anyway?". So I've just added a new image to the Small Mammals that illustrates what bokeh is. So...if you're intrigued or interested, check out this Red Squirrel image - make sure you click on the "In the Field" tab for a written discussion.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

16 May 2007: Field Gear Page Updated

My Field Gear page outlines what I use in the field and why I use it. In recent months I've changed or added some key items, including a D2Xs body (replacing my D200), a 200 mm f2 VR prime lens, two new teleconverters, and a new photo storage device (JOBO's GIGA Vu PRO evolution). The page is now updated to reflect my choices of favourite camera body, favourite lenses, and more. Check it out...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

14 May 2007: First Impressions: JOBO GIGA Vu PRO evolution Photo Storage Device

I'm on record saying that while I have minimal requirements for a hand-held field-worthy photo storage device I haven't been able to find a single one that fits the bill. All I really need is a moderately weather-resistant and moderately robust device with: moderately fast data transfer rates (from my CompactFlash Card), moderately decent battery life, a moderately bright monitor that displays RAW format images with sufficient quality for initial image culling, and a minimum of 60 GB of storage. Did you notice how many "moderatelys" were in that last sentence? It means I'm not looking for perfection and I certainly don't need scads of (mostly useless) whizzy features. Why haven't I been able to find such a device?

Well, I'm beginning to think my search is over. I took delivery of a 120 GB version of JOBO's GIGA Vu PRO evolution (what a mouthful!) hand-held backup/viewer thing-a-ma-jig about 10 days ago (interestingly the package NEVER tells you what's inside - probably because of the long product name - so I'll just call it a thing-a-ma-jig!). This device features a large 3.7" 640x480 pixel display that is very sharp, very bright and with good colour; a simple screen and control cover; and all the functions I need (plus a few more that I don't are about but others may, including the ability to play both MP-3 sound files and MPEG2 and MPEG4 video files). It's relatively intuitive and easy-to-use with only one or two quirky menus and/or "keystroke" combinations to access some of its functions. The data transfer rate from CompactFlash cards is fast enough for me - it takes a couple of minutes to download 100 or so uncompressed RAW Nikon .nef files shot with my D2X. And, screen resolution and brightness is such that you can DEFINITELY assess image sharpness (when you zoom in on the images) well enough to confidently cull your images in the field. If you download and install the firmware update (to version 2.04) you even have a functional loupe tool that aids in easily zooming in to small portions of your images (and it works pretty well)! When it comes time to copy/transfer the images from the device to your computer it has a fast USB 2.0 jack. At this point battery life seems good and should improve (it reportedly takes 3 charge/discharge cycles before getting to its final level of performance and I've only charged it twice so far). Unlike some other un-named products, you don't drain the battery just by transferring a few GB of images to the device!

I won't bore you with all the specs and capabilities of the product (which can be found elsewhere, including an exhaustive feature review on Rob Galbraith's website) but at this point I can say I'm liking this device/thing-a-ma-jig. After some more use I'll add a more detailed appraisal of it on my Camera Gear page.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

30 April 2007: Art Heist: Two Limited Edition Prints Stolen!

Don't you hate it when someone comes along and STEALS your stuff? Recently two of my Limited Edition prints were stolen from a public display in Calgary, Alberta. While I suppose I COULD be flattered by the theft, I'm not feeling that it was meant as a compliment.

The victimized prints were this Bonaparte's Gull in flight (entitled "About to Alight" and numbered as #2 of 25) and this Red Fox (entitled "Red Fox - Contemplation and numbered as #1 of 25). If you happen to see either of these two specific prints, or either of them WITHOUT a numbering sticker, I'd appreciate if you contact me at: prints@naturalart.ca.

Thanks.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

26 April 2007: Wings Over the Rockies Photography Seminars

I'm giving two photography seminars during the Columbia Valley's annual "Wings Over the Rockies" Bird Festival during the week of May 7 to 13, 2007. The topics? The Mechanics of Bird and Wildlife Photography and The Aesthetics of Bird and Wildlife Photography.

Interested in attending? More details, including registration information, on the Seminars page of this website or contact me at: seminars@naturalart.ca.

23 April 2007: First Impressions: Photoshop CS3, Bridge CS3 and Adobe Camera Raw 4.0

My copy of Photoshop CS3, as well as the critical associated freebies Bridge CS3 and Camera Raw 4.0, arrived a few days ago. My first impressions...

Photoshop CS3 (standard edition): As I expected, there isn't a lot in the update of Photoshop itself that will have a major impact on my day-to-day workflow. This isn't to say it's a sub-par update, but rather that it ALREADY worked extremely well for me. There are others that will find "Device Central" (for previewing how their artwork will look on cell phones and other devices), print improvements, Smart Filters, expanded High Dynamic Range functionality, etc., more than adequate to justify forking out the money for the upgrade. For me, the improvements in Photoshop ALONE don't justify the upgrade price.

Bridge CS3: Bridge CS3 is a wonderful thing, especially for those (like me) who committed to keywording and metadata strategies based on earlier versions of Bridge (but who now were struggling with its limitations). Bridge CS3 now allows you to import images directly from your camera (or card-reader) while automatically adding metadata or renaming your images (in batch fashion). Once the images are in Bridge it has culling and editing capabilities similar to Apple's Aperture, including DRAMATICALLY improved preview quality, especially for RAW images. There's a Loupe tool, stacking capabilities, easy-to-use keywording, expanded metadata, and more. Bridge CS3 added everything I needed to simplify my RAW workflow. I love it and would have paid the price of the Photoshop upgrade just for it. But wait, there's more...

Adobe Camera Raw 4.0: I've made no secret of the fact that I've never been a fan of the RAW conversions performed by Adobe Camera RAW. Well, things have changed with version 4.0 - it's really good. Camera Raw gives you unprecedented control over the RAW conversion process (far better than in my "used-to-be-favourite" RAW converter, C1 Pro by Phase One), but the conversions are FAST and can be performed by a quick double-click on the image preview in Bridge. Simplifed workflow...I love it!

Last Thursday my RAW workflow looked something like this: Apple Aperture (image import, initial culling/editing of images) to Bridge (keywording and filing) to C1 Pro (for RAW conversion) to Photoshop CS2 (final editing of converted TIFF) back to Bridge (for keywording of converted images). Clunky and awkward - yep! Today, I experimented with an all Adobe workflow - Bridge/Camera Raw/Photoshop and my productivity was WAY up (and my images as good or better than before!). Very nice. I'm not sure I have any reasons left to fire up Aperture or C1 Pro anymore...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

15 April 2007: Tele-Converted Yet?

Readers of this blog will know that I've never been a fan of teleconverters (teleconverters are optical instruments that fit between your SLR's body and its lens and function to increase the magnification of the "host" lens). Not long ago I purchased Arthur Morris's E-book entitled "The Art of Bird Photography II". It's a great book, and available only from Arthur Morris's website "Birds As Art." To those who don't know of him, Arthur Morris is recognized as one of the top bird photographers in the world. Anyway...when I was perusing his book, I was stunned at the number of images that were taken using teleconverters. While teleconverters SEEM like a great idea (and an economical way to acquire a decent length telephoto lens), in practice I've never got consistently good results using them. But here was a one of the world's best using them all the time. Could it be...I was wrong?!? A shocking thought...

So...what was I doing wrong? Arthur Morris shoots with Canon equipment (clearly a character flaw!), and I'm a Nikon user. Could it be that Canon is producing better teleconverters than Nikon? A disturbing thought. I decided it was time for a little research and a little field testing. Here's what I've found to date:

RESEARCH FINDING: Nikon teleconverters don't like zoom lenses. I found this statement and warning in several places, and I can certainly say that I've always had poor results using teleconverters with zoom lenses. As a matter of fact, historically I've almost always used teleconverters with zoom lenses - perhaps the source of my dislike of teleconverters?

RESEARCH FINDING: Nikon teleconverters like long lenses. Nikon's "E" series of teleconverters (which is pretty much all you'll find on the market nowadays) are built for long AFI and AFS lenses and perform best with Nikon's latest series of professional prime lenses. Hmmmm...I just happen to own two recent models of Nikon's best professional telephoto lenses - the 200 mm f2 VR and the 300 mm f2.8 VR. Time for a few field tests...

FIELD-TEST FINDING: Nikon TC-14E II 1.4x teleconverter paired with Nikon 200mm f/2G ED-IF AF-S VR lens. I performed a completely non-scientific test of this combination: I took it out in the field and shot with it in the same way I would during a normal field shoot. No controlled comparison shots of brick walls. I figured that I never have (and probably never will) sell a shot of brick wall shot under ANY conditions, so the critical test for me would be how I shot with it in the field. What have I found? I've obtained excellent "professional quality" results when using mid-range apertures (in the f8 range). I haven't tested with larger apertures yet (but hope to soon). Bear in mind that this lens is STUNNINGLY sharp (quite possible Nikon's sharpest lens ever), so even with a marked degrade in optical quality it would still be light years ahead of most other lenses.

FIELD-TEST FINDING: Nikon TC-14E II 1.4x teleconverter paired with Nikon 300mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR lens. I JUST began testing this combination (again, very non-scientifically). Early results are encouraging but not definitive. Again, this lens is one of Nikon's best, and even moderate image degradation could still result in quality images.

So...am I a full tele-convert now? Not yet. I'm still skeptical but, I have to admit, slightly encouraged. Stay tuned for more field test results (covering a more full range of apertures and with Nikon's more "powerful" Nikon TC-17E II 1.7x teleconverter).

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

4 April 2007: Natural Art Images Stock Photos Now Available

I've just finished "wiring up" the stock photography search and purchase mechanism on this website - just go to the main Stock Photography section of this website if you'd like to check it out. You can now search, browse or purchase both my Rights Managed (RM) and Royalty Free (RF) stock photos from here! The collection of stock images will be added to continuously...so if you can't find the image you want right now, check back soon!

There are three ways to access the stock images from www.naturalart.ca:

  1. Access via Image Galleries: Many of the images found within this website's image galleries are available as either RM or RF stock images. Just check the "Availability" status immediately below each image - those that are available as stock images will carry the "RM Stock" or "RF Stock" label and link. Selecting this link will provide you with specific details of that particular stock image.

  2. Search the Stock Image Library: My entire stock library may be searched by keyword, image category, or both. Jump right in and Initiate Search Now or learn more before searching on the main Search Images page.

  3. Browse Thumbnails of Stock Image Library: Some prefer to search for stock images via browsing thumbnails of the available images. You can select to browse either ALL the images or popular collections on the main Browse Images page.

Not sure about what stock photos are (or why you'd want them)? Or you're a little foggy about the difference between RM and RF stock photos? You can relax - it's all explained in the first Stock Photography page.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

2 April 2007: First Impressions: Nikon's 200mm f2 VR Lens

Late last week I took delivery of a new lens - Nikon's 200mm f2 VR lens (which bears the full name of: AFS 200 mm f/2 G ED-IF VR Nikkor). There is one word that fully describes this lens: EXCESSIVE! This suggests both positive and negative attributes, which is true. Here's specifically what I mean:

EXCESSIVELY BIG: For a 200mm lens, this lens is HUGE! It's not so much the length of the lens, but the diameter of it. This lens is pretty much as wide as my 200-400 VR, which isn't tiny. There's just no way to produce a high-speed lens that's tiny - and this lens proves the point!

EXCESSIVELY HEAVY: 200mm and 6.4 lbs. Remember what I just said about there being no way to make a fast lens small? Well, it applies to weight too!

EXCESSIVELY PRICEY: 200mm and over $4,000 CDN. Uhhh...definitely not an impulse purchase!

EXCESSIVELY FAST: Yes, I mean FAST! Whoa! You expect a f2 lens to allow you to shoot at high shutter speeds, and I heard that this lens focused fast, but I NEVER expected it to focus THIS fast! Not only is initial focus acquisition fast, but it tracks objects moving directly at (or away from) you just like your eyes do. AMAZING.

EXCESSIVELY SHARP: Do not - I repeat DO NOT - test out this lens if you want to remain even remotely content with the image sharpness of ANY of your other lenses. To many the 70-200 VR is a nearly legendary lens (and I have to admit I'm not sure I concur), but if the sharpness of the 70-200 is rated as a perfect 10, then this lens is at LEAST a 15.

EXCESSIVELY BEAUTIFUL BOKEH: I thought the bokeh (out of focus zones) of my 300 VR were so buttery smooth and beautifully blurred that they could never be beaten. I was wrong - unbelievable with the 200! And, the transition from the sharp focus to the out of focus zones is smooth and gradual. Simply beautiful.

EXCESSIVELY WONDERFUL COLOUR AND CONTRAST: Beats anything I've ever used - bar none.

So what do I really think? Well, I love the results this lens produces so much that I WILL find a way to carry into the field, even if it means I have to spend my winters weight-training. And, now I want to re-shoot everything I've ever shot with my 70-200 VR lens (at least those shot at 200mm). And, I'm already thinking of ways to modify my shooting techniques to get close enough to wildlife to use this lens all the time (awww...those grizzlies aren't dangerous, are they?).

A far more complete review of this lens can be found on Bjorn Rorslett's website.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.



Blog Archive - not so fresh but still very readable and relevant...

2013 - The Whole Shebang
2012 - Almost The Whole Shebang
2011 - The Whole Shebang
2009 - October to December2009 - July to September2009 - April to June
2009 - January to March 2008 - October to December 2008 - July to September
2008 - April to June 2008 - January to March 2007 - October to December
2007 - July to September 2007 - April to June 2007 - January to March