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Birds on Strike • On The Up And Up • What You See Is What You Want
Dove imprint on window by George Lepp
She lived! A dove that struck Lepp’s window left a strong impression, so much so that he was moved to photograph the glass in bright morning light. A black card held back from the window blocked reflections of the landscape while allowing sufficient light to illuminate the dusty imprint of the bird’s impact. It ended well; after an overnight stay in the “hospital cage” at the Lepp Bird B&B, the dove recovered from the collision and flew off on its own. Canon EOS 5DS R, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM. Exposure: 1/180 sec., ƒ/11, ISO 400.

Birds On Strike

Question: Like you, we like to watch and photograph birds in our backyard, so we encourage them with feeders. But too many are crashing into our windows; often they fly away, but sometimes they fall to the ground and die. Do you have any words of wisdom about how to minimize these sad happenings? –B. Slater, Seminar Participant

Answer: According to the unabashedly pro-bird organization the American Bird Conservancy (bird lovers of the Americas should see the intelligent and informative website abcBirds.org), window strikes kill about 1 billion birds each year in the U.S., and the majority occur at residences and shorter structures. The ABC website reports on products the organization has tested and found to be effective in deterring strikes in both residential and commercial buildings. The problem with many of the easily applied solutions is that they look terrible and obstruct the very views we covet.

At our home, which has large windows overlooking an unfenced yard and open space, we do our best to attract birds by creating favorable habitat through landscaping and bird feeders. We found that bird feeders placed at optimal viewing distance for us, about 10 feet away, generated many strikes. Often these encounters were precipitated by raptors as a hunting strategy. We’d hear the dreaded “thunk” against the window, run to the rescue, and catch a Cooper’s or sharp-shinned hawk in the act of retrieving a stunned flicker or songbird from the deck. We essentially eliminated these kinds of events by moving the feeders 30 feet from the house and planting evergreen trees for cover and refuge around them. In addition, we have applied the UV-reflecting appliques available from a local company, WindowAlert (WindowAlert.com). These are not unattractive and have helped reduce encounters at our windows.

Nonetheless, birds still hit the glass occasionally, especially on cloudy days. Usually they fly away, but sometimes they fall, stunned or unconscious. Long ago we learned through observation and non-intervention that an unconscious bird on the ground will nearly always die. So when a bird hits the ground, we act quickly to reach it before a predator does. One of us retrieves the bird and one of us fetches the “hospital cage,” a standard wire birdcage with a removable top. We put the bird in the cage, bring it inside out of the hot sun or snow, and keep our distance. Most recover within a half hour, but one dove recently spent the night and stayed for breakfast. When they resume activity, and especially if they are reacting to the cage and/or our proximity, we take the cage outside, remove the roof, and cheer them on their way. Over the last 10 years, at least 90 percent of the unconscious or motionless birds we have handled in this way have recovered sufficiently to fly. Sometimes they are scolding us as they go. The most ferocious was a tiny female rufous hummingbird, whereas some species, such as pine siskins, are so docile they must be scooped from the cage and encouraged to leave our hands.

So, that’s what we do. We hesitated to put this out there, because we are well aware of the many opinions, informed and otherwise, folks hold about feeding wild birds or interfering with Mother Nature. Unfortunately, humans are jeopardizing bird species not only by constructing homes and buildings with walls of windows, but also by destroying natural habitat, erecting wind turbines as clean energy alternatives, spraying pesticides, and inserting millions of domestic and feral cats into the environment. This last factor alone is responsible for the loss of 2 to 3 billion wild birds each year in the United States, or nearly three times as many as killed by window strikes (as researched by the American Bird Conservancy), and there is an easy solution. Keep your cats indoors, everyone.

 On The Up And Up

Question: I’m excited about the total solar eclipse in August of 2017. However, since I live in the Plains, totality will occur at midday. Do you have any tips on how I can take pictures with my tripod while pointing the camera straight up? –M. Anderson, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Answer: The 2017 solar eclipse will pass with totality along the central line within 50 miles north of where I live in Bend, Oregon. Fortunately, the time here will be around 10 a.m., but that still puts the camera at a pretty steep angle. The answer to this problem for me, and for you, is remote control.

My current camera of choice for ultimate resolution is the 50-megapixel Canon EOS 5DS R, and it does not have built-in WiFi. So I’ll attach a CamRanger (camRanger.com) wireless transmitter to the camera, sit in a comfy chair, and safely watch the whole process take place while controlling the camera from my Apple iPad. Alternatively—or simultaneously—I’ll use the EOS-1D X Mark II with a second CamRanger and iPad to capture a 4K video progression of the eclipse, so I have both a high-resolution moving record of the phenomenon and the ability to extract still frames from the 4K video. I’ll use a solar filter on the lens during the brightest exposures, but this should not be needed for the moment of full totality.

Now is the time to assemble your wireless equipment and to master the technology you’ll need for successful photography of the eclipse. Some cameras have built-in WiFi, and the feature is in high demand, so I’m hoping it will be available in pro models sometime before the sun goes dark. If your camera has WiFi, it likely also offers an app to allow you to control it via smartphone or tablet; otherwise, turn to the manufacturer’s accessory or a specialty transmitter, such as the CamRanger.

What You See Is What You Want

Question: I like to view my pictures either in photo books or hanging on the walls. I prepare images for photo books in the application of the company as JPEG format and send for printing through the internet. For large prints, I save in a TIFF format at 200 dpi and take the file to the printing company (they use an HP inkjet printer). In both cases, the printed results are never identical to what I saw on my monitor, either in color or brightness. Can you recommend a way to make it closer to reality? –M. Krashniak, Israel

Answer: Well first, let’s define reality. OK, just kidding.

The images on your monitor are especially vivid because light is shining through them, whereas light is reflected from paper prints. A number of variables affect the outcome of the transfer from digital image to print, including image quality, paper composition, texture and finish; printer capability; and the software interface between the computer and the printer. And it can be very frustrating, after you’ve perfected an image on the computer display, to be unable to achieve equivalent quality in the solid rendition.

From darkroom days, serious photographers printed their own work as an essential element of the creative process. I was never satisfied with commercial printing of my film images; the sharpness, color and tonal aspects of the negative/inter-negative/print process never yielded a result that met my expectations. Today’s digital files and inkjet printers with pigment inks offer infinitely greater capability. Still, a well-calibrated monitor is necessary, and often several attempts with slight corrections in the workflow and/or paper may be needed to achieve the optimum result.

I do this in my studio, where the computer monitors and printers share space in a neutral-colored room lit to 5000 degrees Kelvin. A similar workflow should be used by a quality off-site printer, who should be willing to send you one or more proofs before the final printing. Naturally, this kind of attention to detail costs more.

Finally, a word about print media. Each type of printer has a different ink palette, and there are differences among even the top models from each manufacturer. I work exclusively with Canon printing software, Canon professional printers and Canon-sourced papers. Individual choices from among the wide variety of available papers can yield startlingly different results. For example, watercolor paper is more absorbent, producing a softer but less-reflective print, while high-gloss or metallic paper yields sharp, saturated images that can lose impact from certain angles due to their high reflectivity. Photo book producers are probably using electronic presses and may not use photo-grade paper; you will need to review the print and paper options and make choices based upon the effect and quality you require, again recognizing that higher quality comes at a price.

One of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor and nature photographers and a leader in the field of digital imaging and photographic education, Lepp is the author of many books and the field editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. One of Canon’s original Explorers of Light, Lepp finds inspiration in advancing technology that fuels creative innovation and expression of his life-long fascination with the natural world.

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