Friday, December 31, 2010

Favorite Photo of 2010 by Chad Griggs

Nikon D90, Nikkor 500mm f/4 AFS + TC-14E II @ 700mm, ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1/800

Derek challenged me to pick a single favorite image from 2010. I knew choosing just a single image would difficult, but I was surprised just how difficult it was. This a wild wolf in Yellowstone, taken in September 2010.

This photograph isn't nearly my best photograph technically speaking. I had to run my ISO all the way up to 1600. It was one of the first times I used the TC-14 and I now know that stopping down to f/8 would have made for a significant improvement. Despite all of this, I still choose it, why?

Wolves have been a fascination of mine since I was a young kid. In fact, wolves are the primary reason I got into wildlife photography. Even though Minnesota has one of the largest populations of wolves in the continental US, I've never photographed them in the wild. Wild wolves are very shy and generally keep a healthy distance from people. So being able to photograph a wild wolf was an amazing opportunity for me.

The other part of this was the amazing experience. We spent many hours sitting on the side of the road near an elk kill from the previous night. Coyotes, eagles, ravens and other birds came and left over that period of time. In the distance we could see a pair of wolves who already had their fill for the day. We could only hope they would come back for a second helping. As the light began to run out, a single black wolf approached! It was one of the most exciting experiences of my life.

For more information about our wolf encounter, see and earlier post titles, "Wolves in Lamar Valley."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Favorite Photo of 2010 by Derek Griggs

This year was a exceptionally difficult year to pick a favorite, but there was one that stood out above the rest.

The photo I selected came from Yellowstone National Park along the Nez Perce Creek. Chad and I stopped along the road to watch a buffalo graze off in the distance. I walked a short distance with my long lens and realized that the buffalo isn't what I should be pointing my camera at. The Nez Perce Creek was my subject, with the geysers off in the distance and the beautiful sunrise beyond that.

Nez Perce River
Nikon D90, 12-24mm @f14, ISO 200, circular polarizer, Photo by Derek Griggs (click for full size)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Photo of the Day! Hawk Owl Treetop!

Nikon D7000, Nikkor 500mm f/4 AFS

This a image of a Northern Hawk Owl from a couple of weeks ago. Derek and I are heading back for another try at the Hawk Owls. We are also hoping to see our first Great Gray Owl of the season too. Hopefully new images to come!

Wildlife Photography: Lenses (Part 2)

Long lenses can pack quite a price tag, so I decided to break it up a bit and broke it up into three categories. Budget, Mid-Range and Pro. Even these groups could be broken up into sub categories, but I'll try to keep it simple. Also, there is an endless list of lenses in various focal lengths, so I'll just name my favorites.

This is where I started and there are plenty of wildlife opportunities to be had with these lenses. They offer excellent image quality, flexibility of a zoom and they are very light and easy to hand hold. If your into splitting hairs or pixel peeping, they can be a bit soft at 300mm. They are also varible aperature, so they lack the speed necessary for teleconverters.

Nikon 70-300 VR
Canon 70-300 IS

Nikon D40x, Nikkor 70-300 VR

Things can get very interesting in this range because there are many options to choose from. My personal opinion is get a fixed focal length, fast aperature lens. So my first choice is the 300mm f/4 by either Canon or Nikon. They both accept 1.4x teleconverters and will become 420mm f/5.6 lenes. They are tack sharp. The Sigma zooms offer the flexability of a zoom. The Sigma's can have quality control issues and have less contrast. They will also not be as sharp in most cases. But they can be a great option, and I have plenty of excellent images to prove it.

Nikon 300mm f/4.0 AF-S
Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS

Sigma 150-500mm OS
Sigma 50-500mm OS

Yellow Headed Blackbird
Nikon D90, Nikkor 300mm f/4 AFS + TC-17E II @ 500mm
If your a pro or in the market for any of these lenses you probably already know that they are the cream of the crop. For the rest of you, it takes a couple of years of indoctrination before you stop gasping at the prices. I've harped on it a few times in the past but here is a tip to save some money. First, the big lenses are less expensive on Canon. Second, look at older models of the lenses below. In most cases you can get a extremely nice, high end lens for much less money if you buy the previous generation model. Try in their Buy & Sell forum to find quality used lenses.

Nikon 200-400mm f/4 VR II
Nikon 500mm f/4 VR
Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS

Nikon 600mm f/4 VR
Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS

Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS

Nikon D90, Nikkor 500mm f/4 AFS

Monday, December 27, 2010

Photo of the Day! Ellingson Island, MN

Nikon D7000, Sigma 24-70 f/2.8, handheld @ ISO 640, 24mm, f/9, 1/25

This is from a couple of weeks ago on our trip to northern Minnesota. We stopped by Split Rock State Park for sunset. For most of the afternoon it looked like it was going to be overcast and therefore we weren't real confident we would get good light. But as the sun set, a little bit of light squeezed through the horizon and made this image possible!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Photo of the Day! Bald Eagle!

Nikon D90, Nikkor 500mm f/4

Bald Eagles are one of my favorite subjects to photograph, but this year we haven't had a lot of luck with them locally. Hopefully in the coming weeks we will be able to post more eagles images! The image above was taken in early 2010 and was actually one of the first photographs I got with my 500mm lens.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Captured in the wilds of my living room, sitting atop my Christmas tree! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Chad and Derek Griggs at Natural Vision Photography! We hope you all have a great holiday! Best wishes and thank you from the bottom of our hearts for making this season so wonderful!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Photo of the Day! Gray Jay Incoming!

Nikon D7000, Nikkor 500mm f/4 AFS , SB-600 fill flash, manual focus, manual exposure, auto ISO, @ ISO 1800, f/5.6, 1/800

This is another Gray Jay from last weekend. This photograph took a bit of experimenting and patience. Even though the light was difficult, we kept working at it. I ended up with this great landing shot. I'm very happy with the results from the D7000 even at ISO 1800.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Photo of the Day! Northern Hawk Owl

Nikon D90, Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 + TC 14E II @ 420mm, ISO 500, f/7.1, 1/1250 +1.3 EV

This was from our recent trip to northern Minnesota. We were lucky to have a cooperative Hawk Owl for the better part of the day. This Hawk Owl was actively hunting. It would sit on the tree top for short periods of time before changing locations or dive bombing an unsuspecting vole.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wildlife Photography: Lenses (Part 1)

Nikon D50, Nikkor 70-300 VR @ 300mm

A common question I get is, "What's a good wildlife lens?" The short answer is, the longest and fastest you can afford. That doesn't really answer the question though. So why do wildlife photographers need the longest and fastest lens they can afford?

Focal Length
The first part of my "short answer" was focal length. So why is this important? Most wildlife, most of the time, are difficult to approach. They see humans as a danger and run, fly or swim away. So focal length is obvious, you always want the most reach you can get. So how much focal length is required for wildlife photography? I started with a Nikkor 70-300 VR lens and I was able to get some nice full frame wildlife shots at 300mm. (above)

Nikon D90, Sigma 150-500mm OS @ 500mm

Fastest Lens
What do I mean by the fastest lens possible? I'm talking about the lenses' aperture. A fixed f/5.6 is good, a f/4 is better and a f/2.8 is best. "What makes a fast lens" could be an entire topic itself so I'll just briefly mention a few things. First, larger aperature lenses (f/4 and f/2.8) gather more light, and therefore allow faster shutter speeds. They also autofocus faster and are usually the sharper than the slower lenses. Faster lenses also take teleconverters. Teleconverters multiply your lenses focal length depending on the teleconverter. So a 1.4x teleconverter will turn a 500mm lens into a 700mm lens. Variable aperature lenses like my previously mentioned 70-300 VR don't play well with teleconverters. So in the end it comes back to focal length.

Nikon D90, Nikkor 500mm f/4 AFS @ 500mm

In the never ending quest to obtain more and better gear you might find yourself saying, "If only I had a 500mm lens." But then if you had a 500mm lens, then you'd be saying, "If only I could shoot at 700mm." If you had 700mm, then you'd say, Oh really wish I could shoot at 800mm and so on. Trust me, I know from experience, you can never have enough range.

The real secret is approaching wildlife, using a blind, shooting from a car or just finding wildlife that is acustomed to people. Even if you have a 500mm or 600mm f/4, you'll still need to find ways to get close to wildlife. If you have a 300mm lens, you'll just need to figure out how to get a little closer.

Nikon D90, Nikkor 500mm f/4 AFS + TC-14E II @ 700mm

So get the longest and fastest lens you can afford. Then learn how to get close to the wildlife, because that's the real trick...

If your wondering what my recommendations for wildlife lenses are, stayed tuned for Part 2.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Photo of the Day! Gray Jays Interaction!

Nikon D7000, Nikkor 500mm f/4 AFS, manual focus, manual exposure, auto ISO, ISO 900, f/5.6, 1/800

This image is from last weekend in northern Minnesota. While working with some cooperative Gray Jay I really wanted multiple subjects and hopefully some interaction between the two. Since I was using a fixed focal length lens I needed to back up a bit so I could get two birds in the scene. After a little bit of patience I ended up with this photo!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Photo of the Day! Grey Jay in Flight!!

Nikon D90|300mm f2.8 shot @f3.5|ISO 1600|1/1250|f7.1|SB800 for fill flash

This photo took a tremendous amount of time and patience. It was cold and very windy out with the sun fading fast. I've had an idea for a grey jay in flight shot for almost a year. On my most recent trip to northern Minnesota I succeeded on my vision of what I wanted to create.

After several attempts and missing the focus I manually focused roughly 5 inches past the top of the tree. The only problem was I had to time it right when the grey jay would fly into the area of focus. My window of focus was limited since the sun was setting and I was shooting at f3.5 to keep my shutter speeds up.

After missing a few opportunities I made my shot! I am very pleased with the result considering the time I put into this one image. Professional wildlife photographer Scott Bourne always says "don't just take pictures, make pictures." I feel like I made this picture opposed to just taking it.

In the words of Scott Bourne go out there and make a picture!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Photo Trip, Northern Hawk Owl!

Nikon D7000, Nikkor 500mm f/4 AFS + TC 14E II @ 700mm, ISO 320, f/8, 1/1000 by Chad Griggs

Derek and I spent two days shooting wildlife and a few landscapes in northern Minnesota the past two days. Our focus was on owls. It can be hit or miss with these owls but we were hoping to find Northern Hawk Owls and Great Gray Owls.

On day one we only briefly saw a Northern Hawk Owl and no Great Grays. The Northern Hawk Owl was amazing though. We completely blew an opportunity to get a nice photograph of it though. It sat on the very top of a tree for about 30 minutes. Long enough for Derek and I to loose our concentration on the bird, then all of the sudden it flew right at us and over our head! We both watched in pure amazement and pain that we weren't paying more attention.

The Owl flew about 100 yards past us and caught a mouse or vole in the snow. It was really amazing how it could even see it from that far away!

Nikon D7000, Nikkor 500mm f/4 AFS + TC 14E II @ 700mm, ISO 360, f/8, 1/1000, + 1.7 EV by Chad Griggs

On day two we had a bit more luck with the owl. The two photos above were taken when the owl repeated the behavior. It quickly flew off to an open snow covered field behind us. The owl was a bit back lit so I quickly ramped up my exposure compensation to +1.7 EV. The owl didn't seem to catch anything but then did a low fly from left to right. I was fortunate to get some photos of this small fast flying owl!

Nikon D90, Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 + TC 14E II @ 420mm, ISO 500, f/7.1, 1/1250 +1.3 EV by Derek Griggs

We didn't see any Great Gray Owls and we are definitely excited about getting back up there and spending more time with the Northern Hawk Owl. So the owls haven't seen the last of us. Future trips and photos to come!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Photo of the Day! Male Wood Duck

Nikon D90|Sigma 150-500 @500|f7.1|ISO 400|1/60 ooops!

Yes, old man winter has its icy grip on Minnesota right now. There is warmer weather in the future for us(sort of). I made this image last spring while laying on my stomach waiting for this guy to swim by me. An hour and a half later, I got what I was looking for.

As a reminder (mostly to myself) to check your settings. As you can see I shot this at 1/60 of a second. That's just a bit slow for 500mm. =)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Photo of the Day! Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
Nikon D90|Sigma 150-500 @500mm|ISO 500|f7.1|1/200

This was one of my first outings with my Nikon D90 in 2008. It was a good test of the cameras abilities with the Sigma 150-500 attached. This Great Horned Owl is still one of my favorite photos of all time!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Photo of the Day! Trumpeter Swan at -5° F

Nikon D7000, Nikkor 500mm f/4 AFS + TC14E II, @ 700mm, ISO 640, f/8, 1/4000

This is a Trumpeter Swan that was kind enough to stop by our local duck pond this morning. I was actually trying to get a photo of a somewhat cooperative Bufflehead. This guy ended up being even more cooperative. This pond has a constant flow of water which keeps the water open even in the severe cold. The biggest problem with shooting in this weather is dealing with the steam coming off the water. Sometimes it can be a very cool effect, but sometimes it's a hindrance. Trying to get a shot of the smaller and more distance Bufflehead, the steam was a hindrance, but with the larger and closer Trumpeter Swan, I was more successful!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Photo of the Day! Pine Grosbeak, Northern MN

Nikon D7000, Nikkor 500mm f/4 AFS, fill flash, @ ISO 800, f/5.6, 1/600

This is a male Pine Grosbeak from last weekend in northern Minnesota. It took quite a bit of patience to get this image. There was a small flock of about 5 males and 1 female which came and left several times. While we waited we photographed Black-capped Chickadees, Downy Woodpeckers, Hair Woodpeckers and even had a Gray Jay visit a few times.  Finally after several hours this male Pine Grosbeak came and perched on this branch! Patience paid off!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Photo of the Day! Grey Jay

Nikon D90|300mm f2.8| TC14|

This photo is from my shoot last weekend in northern Minnesota. Next visit north, I want to try and get a nice in flight shot.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Challenge: Select a Favorite Photo from 2010

Split Rock Lighthouse, MN
2009 Favorite | Split Rock Lighthouse, MN

As we near the end of 2010, I believe its a good challenge to pick a favorite photo. Shown above is my favorite photo from 2009. I usually see this on various photo forums and websites where people post their 3 or 5 favorites. I want to take it a step further this year by selecting just one.

If your asking yourself why? I think it's a challenge for any photographer to pick just one image out of a library of thousands. If your anything like me I have several from the last 12 months that I believe are my best.

What I'm trying to get out of this challenge is to learn from my photography and see how it has grown or where it needs to go. To see if I have grown as a photographer I'm going to check on composition, exposure, sharpness and clarity.

I added many weapons to my photo arsenal this year such as: upgraded long lens, circular polizar, big sturdy tripod, using fill flash, Lightroom 3, and CS5. While these tools have indeed helped me they don't necessarily help in the field when I see something to shoot. Vision is something else that improves as I grow as a photographer. Vision is more important than any of tools I mentioned above. Without vision we don't have an photo in mind to create.

I challenge everyone to select a favorite photo from 2010 and share it with Facebook friends, Twitter followers, friends, family, and co-workers. Make your photography fans ask you why you have selected that image as your favorite.

With that said, I'm not going to share my favorite just yet! There is still time in 2010 for more great shooting opportunities. Good luck and happy shooting!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Photo of the Day! Nice Catch

Nikon D90|Sigma 150-500 @380|ISO 320|f8|1/1600

The gulls hang out of most of the winter at an open portion of the Minnesota River. There is an abundance of shad for the gulls and eagles. One of our favorite shooting locations.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Photo of the Day! Dicsissel

Nikon D90|Sigma 150-500 @500|f8|ISO 400|Fill Flash

On a wet soggy day earlier this year I was standing in a field for a couple hours while this Dicsissel was singing for me!

Don't forget to check out the video!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

D80, D90, D7000 ISO Test

Above from left to right, Nikon D80, D90, D7000

Nikon D7000

It's finally here, I've been waiting since the announcement to get my hands on it and I have finally done just that! It's a exciting camera for me for many reasons but it stands as a solid step up from my D90. I'll give a more complete review of the camera and comparisons to other cameras that you might be thinking about soon. But for now I just want to do a quick ISO test. The increased ISO performance was one thing I wanted to keep a close eye on.

The test was done in a controlled environment with constant lighting. The left part of the image to where the focus was to show detail and the right is a navy blue background. The blue background is behind the target and is blurred out. The test was conducted with a Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 VR I @ f/4 on @ 135mm a tripod. The test was done with a remote release for the D80 and D90 and mirror up remote release with the D7000 (more on that later).

D80, D90, D7000 @ ISO 800




D80, D90, D7000 @ ISO 1600




D80, D90, D7000 @ ISO 3200




My initial conclusion from this test is there doesn't appear to be a significant improvement as far as noise at high ISO. However, when you look a little closer you see that the D7000 is getting more detail from the subject at the same ISO while retaining equal or slightly better noise levels. It is a little difficult to see in this test but the D7000 also has less color noise than the D90.

There were many comparisons after the announcement of this camera. It was thought that the noise levels could be equal to or close to the D700. My experience with the camera shows that comparison is not accurate. Also, there is a big jump from the D80 to the D90/D300 in terms of ISO. There does not seem to be as big of a leap in ISO performance from the D90/D300 to the D7000.

After conducting this test and using it in the field a bit I still believe this camera overall is a big improvement over the D90. The build quality, customizable settings, features and image quality were all improved.

More D7000 review and comparison's to come...