Oh, the Places You'll Go!

When I first became interested in photography I was excited about traveling to new places and capturing images so that I could share my vision with the world. Sound familiar? I think that the adventure has become a journey for me and has opened my eyes; for me wildlife and being close to nature has always been a draw. I love the rawness of nature even though at times it can be heartbreaking and cold. As an artist I am also interested in lines and form which may explain my love for urbex photography. It seems that my travels have taken me to all kinds of unique places, some of the places I would never have imagined. In addition to my workshop schedule I have been traveling around giving lectures, seminars and private workshops. I am always happy to return home to see my family and catch up on all I've missed :) .

So, now I find myself reflecting on my last few years and the one thing that stands out in my mind, are the people I've met! Yes, I know it's hard to believe, I can hardly believe it myself. I never got involved in photography thinking that I would meet great, interesting, kind, giving, wonderful, fun, knowledgeable, talented, creative, vibrant, honest, loving people. I got involved in photography for the love of nature and art, the people were never even a consideration, yet- they above all have touched me deeply... so, thank you to all the amazing people I have met on my creative adventure, some of you have opened your homes and hearts to me, you've fed me, attended my seminars, workshops and/or lectures, you have photographed side by side with me at some of the most incredible places in the world, you have walked into the unknown darkness with me, laughed and cried with me and most of all enjoyed this crazy thing called "photography". I treasure all of you :) .

Oh, the Places You'll Go!
by Dr. Seuss
1904 ~ 1991

______________________________________________________________ denise ippolito


Groups of Birds

I found it interesting to learn that there are many different names given to groups of birds. I knew of a few, BUT there are many I have never even heard of. I googled it and this is what I came up with. I thought I'd pass them along. How many have you heard of? Do you have any to add?

Birds in general- A flight (in the air), flock (on the ground), volary, brace (generally for gamebirds or waterfowl, referring to a pair or couple killed by a hunter)
Bitterns - A sedge
Buzzards - A wake
Bobolinks - A chain
Chicks (of many species) - A brood; clutch
Coots - A cover
Cormorants - A gulp
Cranes - A sedge
Crows- A murder, horde
Dotterel - A trip
Doves - A dule, pitying (specific to turtle doves)
Ducks - A brace, flock (in flight), raft (on water) team, paddling (on water), badling
Eagles - A convocation
Finches - A charm
Flamingos - A stand
Geese - A flock, gaggle (on the ground), skein (in flight)
Grouse - A pack (in late season)
Gulls - A colony
Hawks - A cast, kettle (flying in large numbers), boil (two or more spiraling in flight)
Herons - A sedge, a siege
Jays- A party, scold
Lapwings - A deceit
Larks- An exaltation
Mallards- A sord (in flight), brace
Magpies - A tiding, gulp, murder, charm
Nightingales- A watch
Owls - A parliament
Parrots - A company
Partridge- A covey
Peacocks - A muster, an ostentation
Penguins - A colony
Pheasant - A nest, nide (a brood), nye, bouquet
Plovers - A congregation, wing (in flight)
Ptarmigans - A covey
Rooks - A building
Quail- A bevy, covey
Ravens- An unkindness
Snipe - A walk, a wisp
Sparrows - A host
Starlings - A murmuration
Storks - A mustering
Swallows - A flight
Swans - A bevy, wedge (in flight)
Teal- A spring
Turkeys - A rafter, gang
Widgeons - A company
Woodcocks - A fall
Woodpeckers - A descent
* Copied from Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, they also list groups of Mammals, Fish, Reptiles & Invertebrates.
Also from the site: If you are interested in derivation of some of these names, or if you just want some fun reading, check out James Lipton's book entitled "An Exaltation of Larks" 2nd edition (Penguin Books 1977). Birders interested in avian nomenclature should see Bruce Campbell and Elizabeth Lack's "A Dictionary of Birds" (Buteo Books 1985). Dave Fellows helped to compile the list and all credit should go to him and the NPWRC.

Newly Added since my posting:
A jar of nuthatches, an asylum of loons, a mutation of thrushes


How I Set Up My Photoshop Workspace

At some of my workshops I get asked how I set up my Photoshop Workspace. I also get asked about that Calibration Strip displayed on the right sidebar of my blog. Below are my answers :) .

I am working with Photoshop CC and Windows 10. It is important to note that I have used every version of Photoshop starting with Elements 4, I have also seen some good changes and some not so good changes to both Photoshop and Windows...Anyway here is how I set up my Workspace:

To add a panel in Photoshop, go to the Application bar across the top and click on Window from the drop down menu. Then choose the panels that you want. I set my Workspace up to have the Histogram and *Info together at the top, then my History and Actions in the middle and then my Layers at the bottom. As you can see I group the Histogram and Info together, etc.

To arrange the panels where you want or to drop them in a group, just click and drag them, you will see a blue highlight appear - this indicates that you can drop it there.

To remove a panel, right-click (Windows) or Control-click (Mac) its tab and then select Close, or deselect it from the Window menu.

Once you get everything set up the way that you want you should save the Workspace so if you screw something up you can easily get back to your saved Workspace.

To Save a Workspace:
Go to Window> Workspace> New Workspace, then type in your name and save it. To see that it has been saved go to Window> Workspace, it should be shown as one of the choices.

* I use the Info panel to help me keep my whites in check, when first setting this up click on the eyedropper and make sure that the display is set to 8 bit (0-255), you shouldn't have to do this but just in case it got changed. Also note that this will not convert your image to 8 bit mode, it will just simplify the read out for you. Then when you scroll over the whites in an image with almost any of the tools (brush tool, zoom tool, hand tool, etc..) it will display the RGB values from 0-255 with the 255 value reflecting blown whites in the scene. I try to keep my whites under 245 when working with Tiffs. When I compress my Tiff into a JPEG the compression will increase the whites by a few points, so giving a little wiggle room is good. I compress my Tiffs into JPEGS for web viewing.

To use the monitor Calibration Strip (as seen on my blog sidebar) you will need to adjust the angle of your monitor; when using a laptop this is most important because we don’t always put our screens in the exact same position each time. The idea is that you are suppose to see a clear difference between each shade of grey in the nine box strip including the two darker boxes on the left and the two lighter boxes on the right. If the dark boxes merge together than your monitor's brightness is set too low, or the other way around. Newer LCD monitors are much brighter than older models. However, if you have them set too bright, then your web photos may look fine but your prints might look too dark.

This strip is in no way intended to be an actual monitor calibration but more of a guideline to adjusting your screen position and or brightness.


Going Beyond A Snapshot

When you get to a certain point in your photography, those snapshots that you are so accustom to taking are no longer going to cut it for you. You will tire of the uneven horizon lines and the blown out foreground elements that hold your eye for far too much time. You will soon become bored with the merging subjects and the partial body parts that have become your signature look.

At this point, you will finally break down and try to learn something about that gadget that has been in your hands for well over a year?? You may even find yourself on a quest to learn the intimate relationship between aperture, shutter speed and ISO that is required to shoot in manual mode. You'll talk to other photographers and read just about anything you can get your hands on; you may even try to read the owner's manual. Your thirst for knowledge will not stop there. You'll spend hours upon hours sorting through a myriad of images on the internet trying to figure out what you are doing wrong.

You will, along the way, spend a lot of money getting the latest, greatest gear. But knowledge is the single best thing that you can bring into the field with you. The big secret in photography is simple, know your gear and how to use it. Yes, it really is that simple. Learn it all inside out and backwards. I can't tell you how many times I have pointed out a great situation to a client and they will spend way too much time changing their settings or debating on whether or not to change their lens or teleconverters; by this time, the shot is gone.

Understanding the technical aspects of photography is very important and often overlooked. Exposure, exposure, exposure, the light, the light, the light... has to be paramount. Understand the camera's meter and how it works and reviewing and reading your histogram is so very important to the overall success of your images. Complete and total knowledge of your camera will give you freedom; that freedom will allow you to concentrate on other things in the field.

Composition is more than placing your subject in a rule of third position or having a clean background. It's about seeing the visual flow and weight of your scene and /or subject. It's about putting together the elements or 'puzzle pieces' in a way that will greet your viewer and walk them through the scene highlighting the important aspects of the shot along the way.

After more time in the field than you'll care to remember, bruises in places you won't want to mention. After sleepless nights and early morning calls with long, long drives, over and over again. After 1000's of hours at the computer and countless hours researching your subject you will finally get to a point where you can eventually breath. It will all come together...

One day you will awake to a new and fresh way of capturing your images, you will craft them. You will become the mastermind behind the lens, orchestrating everything right down to how many blades of grass will or will not be included in the scene. You will take into account every single element. Your backgrounds will become as important to you as the subject you are photographing. Gone will be the days of haphazardly snapping away with a Hail Mary playing repeatedly in your head.


A Defining Moment

I was home for about five weeks and at the time it felt like an eternity. For the first time in my life I found myself without a hectic schedule. For years my usual day had consisted of about 12 hours of intense work followed by three hours of catching up with my household and family. Every August I closed my businesses and travelled to the National Parks, hiking and photographing. I considered myself an adventurer.

Having only one month a year to travel was just not cutting it. I wanted to be out in the wilderness photographing nature all the time. I wanted to see mammals interact with their young; I wanted to watch birds preen. I wanted to stare at ginormous waterfalls and walk on the beach in hopes of seeing sea stacks rising from the water. I wanted to connect with nature, I knew this feeling, I had it before, and I was becoming more and more unsettled. A need inside of me was not being fulfilled.

Every morning when I woke up I would dig into the internet and scour the web looking for inspirational images of nature. Almost everything appealed to me; I wanted to photograph everything I saw. My ambition to be out in nature photographing was getting stronger every day. I became even more restless.

I tried to get to the core of what single thing I could photograph that would satisfy this need in me; I couldn’t put my finger on it. And then one day while looking at photographs I found the image that would be my spark. It was not so much the image but more of what the image conveyed to me. I realized right then, it was not just a single subject that was beckoning me, it was so much more. The image spoke to the need inside of me to go out and challenge myself in a way that I never had before. I wanted to camp under the stars, feel the freezing wind at my back. I wanted to be out in nature exploring the unknown. I wanted to be on an expedition. That was it. That was my answer…

The expedition would begin. It started with that one photograph and would soon develop a soul. I built it up as if it were everything. I spent hours researching where and when the best times were to photograph my target. I rearranged my schedule trying to squeeze it in before having to wait another year. Knowing that I had only months to prepare, and a lot of that time was already spoken for; I would need to dig deep. I started working out and weight training; I had to drop a few pounds and regain some muscle tone and I didn’t have much time to do so.

I needed to research my gear and my clothes. Hours were spent online, digging up every tiny, relevant, detail. Then I looked for my guide. I wanted someone that had intimate knowledge of the area; someone that understood that I needed to make this journey on my own and at my own pace. I needed to see what I set out to see, experience what I needed to feel and I did not want to be deterred.

I spent my next few months climbing sand dunes in brutal East Coast winter conditions, in hopes of recreating the effects (to some degree) that I would be experiencing. Up and down for hours at a time, walking with backpacks filled to the brim with camera gear, tents and sleeping bags, only to return to the car after an eight hour day and drive back home to all my creature comforts.

I started to become disappointed in myself, surely I could push harder. I decided to set up a tent in my backyard; I would not enjoy the warmth and security that my home allowed. I’d eat the food in my rucksack and be happy with my sleeping bag and mat. Once I set my mind to it, there was no going back. There would be no sissy moment where I ran inside to grab a cup of coffee. I had to do this, I had to prepare.

After months of exhausting preparation and endless sleepless nights it was over in a flash. Everything I had worked towards slipped right through my fingertips when I heard my guide say that he had to cancel due to medical reasons. Once I was able to wrap my head around everything and breathe I was able to convince myself that everything works out for a reason and I would just wait patiently for my next opportunity. That was twelve years ago.

Looking back, it was not a single expedition that would fill that void in me. It was much more than that. It was my destiny. At the time, I am not sure that I realized the scope of things but it was calling me in such a powerful way. Instead of spending one month a year out in nature I needed to spend as much time as possible doing what inspired me. I let go of my lifetime goals of accumulating money and possessions and started focusing on my new life…it was a defining moment. I became a nature photographer, sharing my passion with the world.
In 2010 I started this blog as an extension of my photography, and so the journey continues…


Typeface Issues

There is no such thing as typeface being too small. If you are viewing a blog and you feel that the letters are too small than please try one of the suggestions below:

If your Web browser is Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Netscape, Chrome, or Opera:
1. Press the Ctrl key on your keyboard.
2. While holding the Ctrl key, press the + key to make your font size larger.
3. While holding the Ctrl key, press the – key to make your font size smaller.

If your Web browser is Safari:
1. Select “View” from the menu at the top of your screen.
2. Select the option “Zoom text only” (this option should have a check mark next to it).
3. Press the Ctrl key on your keyboard.
4. While holding the Ctrl key, press the + key to make your font size larger.
5. While holding the Ctrl key, press the – key to make your font size smaller.

Alternatively if you are on a PC you can follow these instructions:
Right click on your desktop and click Screen Resolution- no we are not going to change the resolution of the screen.

Click where it says Make text and other items larger or smaller
Choose one of the following:

Smaller - 100% (default). This keeps text and other items at normal size.

Medium - 125%. This sets text and other items to 125% of normal size.

Larger - 150%. This sets text and other items to 150% of normal size. This option appears only if your monitor supports a resolution of at least 1200 x 900 pixels.

Click Apply. To see the change, close all of your programs and then log off of Windows. This change will take effect the next time you log on.
* If that is still not large enough you can Set the custom text size (DPI) on the left side of the dialogue box.


Olympus 300mm lens for Birds... or for the Birds???

Since I own the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera . I thought it would be fun to try out the M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS PRO Lens ($2499.00 retail)as a loaner from B&H. I wanted to see how it would perform (combined with the new Olympus body) for bird photography. I also borrowed the M.Zuiko Digital MC-14 1.4x Teleconverter.

My title "Olympus 300mm lens for Birds... or for the Birds???" is actually a question that I'll try to answer in this post.

First of all the lens and camera feel solid, the combo is much lighter than I am use to working with. The 300mm lens- which is the equivalent of a 600mm lens on the m43rds body, weighs approx. 3.25lbs and with the 1.4ex gives me effectively an 840mm focal length that I can easily hand hold. There is something to be said for being able to hand hold your rig.

When I first stepped up from my Canon 500mm f/4 lens(weight- 8.53 lb) to the Canon 600mm f/4 II lens (weighs 8.64 lb ) everyone said that the weight difference would be insignificant and it was, but what they and I didn't consider is the ginormous lens hood and the maneuverability of the 600mm lens for a smaller framed person to manage. I truly can only hand hold the Canon 600mm lens for short periods of time without having to rest it on something. The old Canon 500mm lens was much easier for me to manage, it felt more compact. So having the smaller sized Olympus gear makes it easier for me to manage. When you are comfortable with your gear and you can move around freely without encumbrance you will perform much better. OR at least I will and that is my reason for testing it out.

The new Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera body has performed well. As far as noise from high ISO, I felt that the newer Olympus did great. The above image shows an untouched file, I did nothing to it except size it for my website. The ISO was 1000, it looks pretty good. The noise is manageable. That was a big concern because to get fast shutter speeds, sometimes you need to bump your ISO.

Now for the real challenge. The autofocus and how well it works, the answer is that the continuous AF with tracking performs very well. Anytime you have a clean solid colored background like a blue sky, auto tracking can easily pick up anything with contrast. For a situation like this you can enable the 121 AF points that Olympus has and it would be hard to miss a subject. However, once you have a distracting background you will need to select a much smaller focus area like the 5 point or single point. I always like to use single point focus so that I can direct the focus where I want it and not let auto tracking take over and grab something that I didn't want it to. You will need to be in Continuous AF with rapid fire. I had trouble at first because I was not use to using the rapid fire on the Olympus and it kept throwing me off. Each time I touched it and it hammered out a round I just stood there in shock. Once the initial fun of this tiny camera with a powerful punch wore off I was able to settle down and really get to work. I have to say that I was impressed with the combo and it did much better than I had expected.

Final thoughts:

For now, I will continue to use my Canon gear for birds and wildlife. I have complete faith in the gear and would not leave anything to chance when going on location. For landscape photography and night photography, I will use the Sony AR7 II, the sensor is a tank and it focuses in extremely low light conditions, the image files are gorgeous and it is a full frame sensor-I can also use the Metabones adapter and use my Canon lenses(that I already own), the menu is complicated but with everything it takes practice. For travel and macro photography I will continue to use the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera , they have a great selection of lenses and I like the Olympus ED 12-40mm f/2.8 for it's minimum focusing distance, versatility and sharpness-plus it's an f/2.8.


Flight Photography & Tripods, originally written for B&H Explora Magazine-2014

I get asked all the time how I, as a woman, have the strength to handhold my big lens for flight photography. The answer is I don't, I am not able to handhold my Canon 500mm lens for long periods of time. Yes, I can pick it up, aim it at my subject and shoot away—but only for a limited amount of time before I need to rest my arms. That is about the time when the action starts and I will, of course, miss something. I don't leave it to chance very often when I am out in the field.

Even for static subjects, I find that having my big lens mounted on a tripod makes it so much easier to do for long periods of time. I like to rely on my Gitzo GT3530LS tripod and yes, I am sponsored by Gitzo. However, it is worth pointing out that I have been using Gitzo tripods since I began my career―long before the company ever heard of me. I only seek sponsorship from companies that I like and whose products I use for my own photography. That has been my motto from the start.

Not only do I rely on my tripod, but my tripod head plays an equal part in my ability to capture all of my wildlife images. Since wildlife is moving, flying, resting, turning, etc. I need to be on my toes and my gear needs to keep up with me. I now use the Mongoose 4th Generation M-3.6 Action Head w/the Integrated Low Mount Arm & Integrated Flash Arm, but I have successfully used the Wimberley WH-200 Gimbal Tripod Head II with Quick Release Base for years. The only reason for the switch was the weight. The Mongoose is much lighter and it can fit easily in my bag when traveling and, since I have been traveling a lot lately, that was a strong consideration. I also like the bottom-mount Mongoose; the side-mount Mongoose heads are awkward for me and require that I hold the lens in mid-air while I attach it to the head; with a bottom mount I can rest the lens on the mount while trying to attach it. Either head allows the smooth fluid movement that I want. Whichever head you choose, it is important to balance your lens properly by moving the plate forward or backward as needed.

Having your tripod collar and both controls (pan locking knobs, vertical and horizontal) loosened will allow you to track your subject smoothly for flight or action shots. If you are standing for flight shots it is very important to have your tripod level, your feet spread approximately shoulder width apart, and your tripod extended so that you are fully upright—bending over or downward to capture flight shots is awkward. Another tip I use is to pre-focus. I find something roughly at the same distance as where I expect to pick up the birds and pre-focus on that. Now I am able to follow the bird in the viewfinder until I am ready to lock focus on it.

There is a right and wrong way to mount the Mongoose Low Mount or Wimberley Version II head on your tripod. Your controls should be on the left side (whether you are right- or left-handed) so that when you have your finger on the shutter button with your right hand, your left hand is free to work the controls, if needed. Having the controls on the right side and having to take your finger off the shutter button makes no sense at all to me. Being ready for the shot and setting up your gear for success is the first step toward making great pictures.

When working with a long lens that is mounted on a tripod, press your head firmly to the eye piece while resting your hand on top of the barrel of the lens above the tripod head. Some folks like to hold the bottom of the lens; I find this effective when pointing my lens downward but either way will help to eliminate vibration. When you’re photographing action or birds in flight, remember to keep your shutter speeds high. I am usually working between 1/1600-second and 1/2500-second, with my ISO never going below 400. This can be a lot to think about when out in the field but, believe me, it will become second nature after a while.

I also don't like having straps flapping in the wind and in front of my camera or controls when my lens is mounted on a tripod. This is something that I see photographers playing with all the time in the field, and it can be quite distracting. I also see a lot of folks messing with inferior heads that slip down while they are taking pictures. It's funny how they try to time the slipping—they are often making excuses saying things like "Yeah, I know it slips but if I catch it just right I'll be okay." That is insanity! If you want quality images you need quality equipment. I once heard someone say that it is not the equipment but the photographer that makes great images and yes that is true; however, you wouldn't try to cut a piece of trim molding with a dull bow saw, would you? Having the right gear is as important as knowing how to use it.

Teleconverters are great, as they allow you to extend your focal length. Nonetheless, they will make acquiring focus much more difficult. I often take my teleconverter off when trying to capture flight images against a varied background or when my subjects are coming out of nowhere and I only have an instant to lock focus. I also don't use a teleconverter when the light is not quite bright enough, like in the pre-dawn, etc. When you can see your subject coming into the frame and you have time to set up the shot and lock focus, then a teleconverter can be great—you just need to practice using one.

So, do I think using a tripod can be a handicap when it comes to flight photography? The answer to that question is yes! Absolutely! Hand-eye coordination is a very natural thing. Having any instrument in between that function creates an additional layer and a new learning process that will take a lot of practice to master. Using the techniques explained above and devoting your time to your craft is the most important thing you can do to up your keeper rate and to stay in the game. Yes, a handicap but no, not forever.

Gear Used:

Canon 1D Mark IV

Canon EF 500mm f/4 IS USM lens


Wall Street Journal -Nature’s Best Publication