Tools of the Trade: Birding Cameras April 9, 2016 09:37 6 Comments
I'm often asked which camera/lenses I use to photograph the birds I paint. There are of course many options for this kind of work — ranging from the extremely expensive high-end DSLRs/telephotos to the much more affordable point-and-shoots. Cameras like the Nikon Coolpix P900, which I use, and other similar super-zooms are really the best and most affordable options for the bird painter.
Bear in mind that if the ultimate goal is to take photographs of birds for use as references or starting points for our paintings, we really don’t need super-high-resolution images. So you really don’t need a great big camera with a great big sensor, and the big, heavy lenses that would go along with it — or even the tripod that would be needed to support this kind of rig. An all-inclusive point-and-shoot camera, like the P900 will do a much-better-than-adequate job for us.
There are quite a few cameras in this category. Along with the P900, there’s the Canon SX60, the Pentax XG-1, and the Fujifilm S1, to name a few. At about $600 the P900 is the most expensive of the group, but it does offer some big advantages — the most important of which is its 83x optical zoom lens that ranges from 24mm to 2000mm (35 mm equivalent). You can imagine the cost of the lenses that would be needed to cover this range with a full-sized DSLR.
You won’t necessarily get great feather/fur detail with the P900 (especially at the long end of the zoom range), but I really prefer that the detail not come from the photograph, but rather from my brush. With the right set of brushes I can add just the right amount of feather detail to my bird paintings.
Also, the autofocus isn’t always super accurate — I sometimes have to play with it a little to get it to behave, and raw shooting capability is certainly a feature I would like to see added. Overall, though, I’ve been very satisfied with the P900's performance and image quality. I’ve really found this camera to be a great image-capture tool for my birding needs.
And I wouldn't want to leave you with the impression that this camera is only good for bird photography. I've found it to be an excellent camera for all of my general photography needs — from landscapes to portraits to sports.
In a future post I'll be writing about my process for capturing bird photos for use as painting subjects. And be sure to catch for my upcoming video tutorial: Autumn Nuthatch, Painting Birds with the Mixer Brush.
I shot all of the images in the P900’s “auto” mode without use of a tripod. With lower light levels and/or use of extended digital zoom, a tripod would be highly recommended. The house finch and the cormorants were shot using a 35mm focal length equivalent of 2000 mm. The moon was shot at 1800mm (in 35mm). Note: some images were cropped, color-edited and lightly sharpened.
Spring Snow in Lake Arrowhead April 4, 2016 12:30
El Nino came to California, but his presence hasn't been felt here in the southern part of the state nearly as much as it has to the north. We were happy to have received an early spring storm that left a nice blanket of snow in the San Bernardinos. The snow really didn't last long, which would be typical for this time of year.
We continue to hope for a wetter-than-usual spring to bring our lake level up (our lake is currently about 7.5 feet below full). We'll see what happens.
This image was taken with my iPhone.
The “Over My Shoulder” Training Series November 8, 2015 12:16 4 Comments
Other painting subjects for this series will include florals, landscapes and still-life - as well as some different kinds of portraiture. If you have any thoughts about what you’d like to see presented, I hope you’ll feel free to share those ideas.
This new series will be structured a little differently than my MTDC series. I took a lot of time in Lessons 1-3 to introduce the tools I use for painting in Photoshop. I tried to show all the finer points of the smudge tool and the mixer brush - how they work; designing and creating them; all the different controls that are available.
The OMS series will assume that you already possess all of this knowledge, so the instruction will focus more on workflow and technique. I plan to be a little more concise with these tutorials, but we’ll see how that goes.
Note: The work-in-progress painting above shows a northern flicker that I photographed on my deck. This bird is a fairly large, distinctly-marked member of the woodpecker family. They are maybe even more striking in flight - their underwings are magnificent. One morning my wife, Janet, and I watched as a male and female flicker danced in near-sync on our neighbor’s roof. It was quite a show.
As I make this painting, I’m using the mixer brush (the same brush configurations provided in Lesson 3 of my MTDC series).
Autumn at Lake Arrowhead November 8, 2015 12:05
The painting above was made fairly quickly using the mixer brush in Photoshop.
Lake Arrowhead Dogwood April 7, 2015 09:41 5 Comments
A few years ago my wife and I — along with our two sons and our neurotic beagle — moved from suburban Rancho Cucamonga, California, to Lake Arrowhead in the mountains of Southern California. One of the many things we noticed and fell in love with immediately was the mountain dogwood that begins to bloom in early spring. It’s everywhere you look: decorating the shadows along the winding canyon roads, sprinkled along the creeks that — because of our drought — flow very little, if at all.
Despite our drought and the things that come with it — a lower water level in the lake, mostly empty creeks — The dogwood still blooms beautifully. The image above is a small part of a painting I made from a photograph taken later in the spring last year. This painting was made using the mixer brush in photoshop. I’ll plan to share with you at some future point the brushes and techniques that were used.