Photographing sloths, birds, and more at an upscale eco lodge
I’m flying home to Colorado after my third visit to Isla Bastimentos on Panama’s northwest Caribbean coast, and it was a fantastic visit. My journey started out in Panama City, where I checked in to a modern hotel downtown. As a side trip, I took a short Uber ride to the Metropolitan Nature Park in Panama City. I figured it would be an easy place to explore, and where I could check all the settings on my camera gear.
On this trip my primary camera was the Nikon Z9 paired with the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 Nikkor Z lens, and the Nikon 1.4x Z teleconverter. This camera and lens combination provides a focal length range from 140-560mm and a maximum aperture of f/8. I was also able to use the Nikon Z9’s DX crop mode, which narrowed the angle of view to effectively 840mm. Because the Nikon Z9 is a mirrorless camera, using DX crop mode magnifies the viewfinder image and improves autofocus accuracy. This comes at the expense of resolution, which drops from 45 to 19 megapixels in DX crop mode.
At the Nature Park, I photographed several bird species, including kingbirds, tanagers, and a squirrel cuckoo. I also encountered red-eared sliders (turtles), basilisk lizards (the fabled “Jesus Christ” lizard), and even a three-toed sloth. Of course, this particular sloth was basically just a ball of fur hunkered down at the top of a tall tree; hardly photogenic (more on this in a moment).
The next day, I greeted my photography clients as they checked in to our downtown hotel. After a brief welcome session, we enjoyed dinner and drinks at the hotel restaurant before retiring for the evening; we had a full day planned for tomorrow and needed to be ready for our morning tour to Monkey Island and the Gamboa Sloth Sanctuary.
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The difference between a blue sky and a dynamic background in bird photos is amazing
Most of the time, when we photograph birds in flight, we simply capture an image of a bird against a blank blue sky. Maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll get a cloud or two in the background, too. If you can capture flying birds in front of an interesting background, your shots can be improved dramatically.
Southern California: The Perfect Coastal Backdrop for Bird Photography
The southern California coast is a great place to capture unique photographs of birds in flight. The high cliffs offer a vantage point where instead of pointing up into the sky, you can point down at the rocky shore below. The backgrounds can include waves, spray, and the coastline. These dynamic backgrounds make for interesting photographs that are so much more than just plain blue skies.
Is 20+ frames per second really necessary in wildlife photography?
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Wildlife photographers love mirrorless cameras because many of them offer incredibly fast frame capture rates. I recently got the new Nikon Z9 mirrorless camera, and one of its best features is its ability to shoot RAW at up to 20 frames per second (fps) with no viewfinder blackout. Other mirrorless cameras, like the Sony A1 and Canon R3 offer frame rates as high as 30 fps. The appeal of such fast burst rates for still photography is that these speeds increase the probability that you’ll capture a moment of peak action, or a dynamic animal pose.
The downside to capturing images at these high frame rates is the sheer volume of images you’ll end up with. Not only will you fill your memory cards faster, but you’ll also have to slog through hundreds or even thousands of shots in your triage/culling workflow. Another challenge with setting your camera to high-speed frame advance is that it becomes nearly impossible to fire off a single shot. Even with practice and good shutter release technique, once the camera is set to capture images at greater than 12 fps, shooting individual images is really difficult.
Obviously, there are certain subjects and situations that call for fast burst rates, and for most wildlife photographers, flying birds are most frequently that subject. In most wildlife photography scenarios, super-fast frame rates just lead to lots of redundant images. But when you’re trying to capture flying birds, high frame rates do offer an advantage.
Exploring landscapes and the Milky Way in the Desert Southwest
Last week, I took a quick getaway to eastern Utah with my Image Doctors podcast partner, Rick Walker. Rick and I have been photographing together for years, and we had a fun opportunity to do some night photography in a dark sky location in Utah.
We packed up our gear and made the drive from Colorado Springs to Green River, Utah, where we spent the night. Our plan was to do some location scouting the next morning in Capitol Reef National Park, and then spending the night in a yurt at Goblin Valley State Park.
Capitol Reef National Park
The next morning , we made the 100 mile drive to Capitol Reef, which is a really underrated National Park. While there aren’t the majestic overlooks like you get in some of the other Utah parks, there’s tons of color and textures to be found within and among the rocks there. Conditions were a bit tricky that morning due to the spate of wildfires in California and Arizona, and we quickly realized by about 10am that we were going to be facing a very long day in 100+ degree temperatures if we just hung out until check-in time at Goblin Valley.