Give ’Em Some Space

Spring Is For The Birds • Live View Benefits  • The Right Light

Red-bellied woodpeckers, who nest in tree cavities, are usually safe subjects for photography at nesting season. A Canon EOS-1D Mark III outfitted with a Canon EF 500mm ƒ/4L and 1.4X tele-extender (700mm) kept me at a safe distance and enabled the photography without a blind.

Spring Is For The Birds
This issue will reach you in April, when spring is really getting started in most of the country. This is also when the birds get into nesting mode, making their locations more predictable and photography a bit easier, but it’s important to assure that we don’t adversely affect the nesters or nestlings.

Here are a few basic rules to observe when photographing birds at the nest.

When a bird is in the process of building a nest, it’s especially alert to perceived threats in the immediate environment and may abandon the site if it feels uncomfortable. Wait for the nest to be finished and the eggs laid before attempting to move closer for photography, being very cautious when the bird is on the eggs, as keeping the parent off the nest could be catastrophic to the well being of the future chicks.

Observe the nest from a distance to determine the birds’ incubation and, later, feeding schedule. There’s usually a somewhat regular timetable. When you begin to photograph, watch to see if your presence disrupts the timetable, and if it does, remove yourself and your equipment from the area. A blind can be an excellent stage for photographing a nest that’s at an accessible height. Introduce the blind to the birds incrementally, gradually moving it closer to the nest as the birds accept it.

The nest is especially vulnerable when the baby birds are about to fledge. Any quick movements or disturbance at this time can send the fledglings out of the nest early and jeopardize their chances of survival.

Some nests are safer to photograph than others. Cavity-nesting birds are generally more accepting, and I’ve often been able to photograph them feeding young at the nest opening.

Ground nests are most vulnerable, and your presence and scent may expose the nest to predators such as raccoons, foxes and coyotes, or to opportunistic jays, magpies and crows that have learned to associate human presence with food.

A good alternative to photographing in person at the nest is to place a remote camera in close proximity and observe and photograph via a remote release. New (more expensive) technology employs wireless cameras monitored and operated from a distance on a laptop.

You can use electronic flash to light a dark nest or cavity, but if the equipment and firing flash keep the parents away from the nest, it must be removed.

Observe the adults’ preferred flight path to the nest, and don’t obstruct it with your equipment.

The welfare of the nest is always more important than getting a photograph.

Team up with a knowledgeable bird biologist to safely watch and photograph the natural history of a nest, from building to fledging. It’s a very satisfying and educational way to work, and the photographs you achieve may be useful to researchers.

Live View Benefits

Q I just bought a new DSLR that includes the Live View feature, and I’d like to know why it’s such a big deal. How is this different from the image on the back of the point-and-shoot digital camera I’ve had for years?
K. Brian
Honolulu, Hawaii

A Live View (LV) on DSLRs is essentially the same feature you’ve been using on your digital compact camera with one important difference. While most compact cameras offer a preview of your composition, newer DSLRs provide a high-resolution simulation of the composition, focus and exposure of the image on your sensor. Why did it take so long for DSLR manufacturers to incorporate LV into their camera systems? It’s basically incompatible with the DSLR’s mirror/single-lens-reflex mechanism, but the resolution of this incompatibility is one of the advantages of modern LV systems. The mirror is locked up when the DSLR is in LV mode, so LV is showing you a precise simulation of the image on the sensor, allowing you to view in real time the fine adjustments you make to exposure and focus before taking the picture.

Once you realize what it can do, you’ll put LV to work often. It’s not a coincidence that LV showed up on our DSLRs at the same time they became capable of capturing HD video. While shooting motion, it’s critical to be able to view the capture on a monitor, either the one on the back of the camera or another larger monitor that can be attached. The rear LCD screen can be difficult to see on a bright day, but a loupe solves that problem (see the Hoodman website at for the loupe, cinema strap and “crane” I use).

I also use the loupe for daytime still photography, but even an old-fashioned black cloth thrown over the camera and your head can help you to see what’s happening on your imaging sensor and achieve critical focus. Most cameras allow a magnification of up to 10X in LV so you can pinpoint the focus when working on landscape captures and more difficult macro subjects. And LV is one tool I use in combination with the meter and the histogram to attain the best possible exposure. It’s especially useful when accomplishing long exposures. Because the mirror is locked up, internal camera shutter/mirror movement is minimized and you can see the exposure on the back of your camera.

I frequently put LV to use in the studio when accomplishing high-magnification photomicrography of subjects such as insects, crystals and snowflakes. The camera is mounted on a copy stand above the subject, which is placed on a movable stage. The camera is connected by USB cable to a laptop computer so that I can see, through LV, what the sensor is seeing. The computer becomes a live monitor from which I can control the camera’s exposure and focus. And while most photographers aren’t going to those lengths, I’m sure we’ll find other new uses for LV as a problem-solver and facilitator of creative approaches to our photography.

The Right Light For Printing
Q I just bought a new high-quality inkjet photo printer, and while the prints I’m making are definitely better, I’m still disappointed in the color rendition. I think that I’ve done everything the way I’m supposed to, including calibrating my monitor. Do you have any suggestions for me?
B. Loury
Denver, Colorado

A We can go to great lengths to produce richly colored prints by calibrating our monitors, using quality papers and adopting precise paper/printer profiles, but if the print is viewed in “colored” light, it will disappoint. First, be sure to use neutral colors in your printing and evaluation area. That doesn’t mean you have to paint the walls 18% gray, but green or yellow walls will cause a problem. It’s also important to light the area to a standard color temperature; the standard we strive for is 5000 Kelvin, a very white light. Most lights in a house are around 3200 Kelvin, which is quite warm (yellow). Outside, the color of light is approximately 6500 Kelvin (blue). So the light in which you evaluate your prints will make a difference in how they look.

Once you know what you want, it’s not always easy to achieve proper lighting in your printing area. In my last three printing studios, I’ve installed fluorescent light fixtures and fitted them with 5000 Kelvin tubes. But I’m not a fan of fluorescents due to their hum, flickering and the clunky look of the fixtures and the inability to position them to light particular areas. In my latest office, I’ve installed track lighting and replaced the bulbs with new LED bulbs that are bright, last a long time and are rated at 5000 Kelvin. They’re not inexpensive, however, and the only source I’ve found is an Internet company called The LED bulb that fits a GU10 track light is the Definity DFN 16 CW FL 120 GU10, priced at approximately $32 each. With a rated life of 27 years, they will last a long time and use only 6 watts of energy each. I hope that LED bulbs will become less expensive and more available over time, but the others I’ve seen so far in local lighting or hardware stores aren’t bright enough and/or have a far warmer color temperature (3200 Kelvin).

So much for the part of the problem you can control—your studio. But where will the print eventually be hung and viewed? If you’re displaying your work in a gallery, you can hope they have lighting that approaches white. In most homes, the color will be warm and yellow. But even if the color of the light is less than desirable, brightness helps. A spot or track lighting directed onto the print in a way that minimizes reflections is very effective in bringing out the details and color of the image.

For information about upcoming seminars and digital-imaging workshops, visit If you have any tips or questions, address them to: OUTDOOR PHOTOGRAPHER, Dept. TT, George Lepp, 12121 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1200, Los Angeles, CA 90025-1176 or online at

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.