Bartering Photography Skills to Photograph Wild Penguins in Patagonia

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Stephen F. Dennstedt

Photographer, Writer, Traveller

As a photographer you don’t always have to be paid in hard cash. Bartering can be an effective tool in leveraging your talent. A case in point: I was at Pira Tour Travel this morning booking an all day trip to photograph the wild penguins on Martillo Island; Pira Tour Travel is the only company in Ushuaia, Argentina that provides an actual walking tour through the Penguin rookery to see up close and personal the Magellanic, Gentoo and King Penguins (it’s expensive at 2,130 pesos or $140 usd per person).

In the course of booking my reservation I mentioned that I was a wildlife photographer and I was asking all kinds of photography related questions: time of day lighting directions, camera to subject distances, lens recommendations and the like. I had also given the person helping me my business card—he looked up my website and immediately called his boss. Bottom-line they offered to let Joel come along for free (a 2 x 1 deal) if they could use some of my photographs and any articles we might write about the expedition (a value of $140 usd). I said absolutely and now we’re both going.

It’s a six-hour tour by mini-van and Zodiac. First the mini-van will take us on a long, convoluted, roundabout trek to our launch site and then we will travel out to Martillo Island by Zodiac (the last time I was in a Zodiac was in the Galapagos Islands). A local naturalist will escort our very small group on the island as we walk among the birds. We will definitely see Magellanic and Gentoo Penguins but the King Penguins aren’t always there. I’ll take whatever I can get. This is a rare opportunity (like Galapagos) to get really close to wildlife without disturbing it overmuch.

If you think bartering your photography skills might be a viable option for you make sure you consider the following: that your work is good enough (that a perceived value can be shared, a Quid pro quo); that you have a professional (clean & simple) business card to present; and that you have a professional looking (clean & simple) website of offer—I’m sorry, a Facebook Business Page, Flickr or Instagram profile isn’t going to cut it in most situations. Visit my website at www.IndochinePhotography.me. To learn more about bartering click here to read my article at Northrup Photo.

penguinPhotographer’s Field Notes: The deal I negotiated (2 x 1) did not include the mandatory Penguin suit (a requirement for walking among the Penguins of Martillo Island). I will have to zip into this suite before exiting the mini-van and boarding the Zodiac. I must wear this suit at all times while on the island so the wild Penguins will be none the wiser (obviously they won’t notice my camera with its large telephoto lens hanging across my chest). I will go into town tonight to get fitted and I expect it will cost about 1.754 pesos ($115 usd) + a modest cleaning deposit of 10% (if you believe this I have some cheap land to sell you in Florida) – SFD

Birds of the Laguna Nimez Nature Reserve

Female Cinereous Harrier

Female Cinereous Harrier

I’ve spent the whole week photographing the beautiful birds that inhabit the Laguna Nimez Nature Reserve (on the shores of Lago Argentino) in Southern Patagonia, Argentina. It’s only a ten minute walk each morning from my hostel  in El Calafate and the weather has been beautiful with moderate temperatures ranging 2°C/13°C (35°F/55°F). September 21st was the first day of spring and the critters are out and about (in abundance). For a wildlife photographer this reserve is nirvana. Note: Click on each image to enlarge for better viewing.

 

 

Photographer’s Field Notes: It’s rare for a wildlife photographer to get too close to their subject but it happened to me taking these photographs. The minimum focus distance (MFD) of my Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Super-telephoto prime lens is 3.5 meters (3.83 yards/11.48 feet). In more than one shooting situation I had to back myself up a little so my camera would autofocus. Many of these images have barely been cropped and they filled the frame naturally. Unless you’re shooting elephants, bears and big cats this rarely occurs. SFD

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Stephen F. Dennstedt

Photographer, Writer, Traveller

www.IndochinePhotography.me 

Southern Patagonia, Argentina

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Male Cinereous Harrier (Circus cinereus)

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Male Cinereous Harrier 

(Circus Cinereus)

1/640s @ f/6.3 ISO 160 @ 400mm

The male differs from the female in that the female has beautiful blue/grey plumage and the male (as seen above) has Earth-tone colors. In many bird species the male is the more brightly colored of the two but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. The one thing they do have in common is their startling yellow eyes. From a distance it’s easy to confuse this bird with the Chimango Caracara (Milvago chimango). They are almost identical in size and color but the Chimango Caracara has dark brown eyes and different coloring around the beak.

I was able to successfully stalk this wild bird to within the minimum focusing distance (MFD) of my Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L Super-telephoto lens which is 3.5 meters (or about 11 feet). I’ve been getting some great shots in the Laguna Nimez Nature Reserve (on the shores of Lago Argentino) here in El Calafate (Southern Patagonia, Argentina). I photographed this beautiful raptor in the early morning hours with the sun at my back (over my right shoulder from the east). Click on either one of the images to view a larger high-resolution image of this marvellous bird.

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Stephen F. Dennstedt

Photographer, Writer, Traveller

www.IndochinePhotography.me

Southern Patagonia, Argentina

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Southern Patagonia Is Raptor Heaven

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Image #1

Chimango Caracara

(Milvago chimango)

1/640s @ f/6.3 ISO 320 @ 400mm

Today was a PERFECT day for wildlife photography and I had my best day ever. I’m in Southern Patagonia, Argentina (El Calafate to be exact). I’ve photographed birds in the Laguna Nimez Nature Reserve (on the shores of Lago Argentino) for the past three days. This is raptor heaven and I’ve photographed the Chimango Caracara (Milvago chimango) and the Cinereous Harrier (Circus cinereus) extensively. The last time I experienced such a great wildlife day was in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador (November 2015).

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Image #2

Cinereous Harrier

(Circus cinereus)

1/1600s @ f/6.3 ISO 200 @ 400mm

I got into the reserve about forty minutes earlier than usual and it made all the difference. The early morning sun was perfect—rising from low in the east and positioned strategically at my back. The soft golden light provided a nice catch-light in each bird’s eye as I snapped my shutter. I was the only person in the reserve and had it all to myself for about three hours. When I started to wrap things up is when other visitors began arriving—by that time the bird’s activity had diminished a lot (you snooze you lose).

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Image #3

Cinereous Harrier

(Circus cinereus)

1/640s @ f/6.3 ISO 125 @ 400mm

When I said this was a perfect day I meant it. Up early—fortified with a few cups of black coffee—and out in the field by myself. These images rank right up there with some of the best work I’ve ever done, at least from a technical standpoint. These photos are almost technically perfect, or at least as perfect as you can get in the wild (unlike a studio you don’t control Mother Nature). For the serious photographers among you I have included some field notes about these captures in the hopes that they might prove useful. To view larger high-resolution images click on each photo.

Field Notes:

Image #1. This is one of the first images I photographed this morning on the trail. I came around a blind corner and this beautiful subject was ahead of me at about 25-meters. I began my slow sneak & creep to place the sun at my back and to get much closer. It took about two minutes to close the distance and I began my final approach—taking a shot, taking a step, taking another shot and taking another step. I was basically at eye level (a rare occurrence in bird photography) and all was GRAND.

Then my camera stopped focusing. What the F*%K. I panicked and started checking all of my controls. I had switched my lens focus range switch to 8.5m – ∞ to speed up my focusing time and evidently I was now closer than 8.5m. I quickly switched it back to 3.5m – ∞ and tried again. It still wouldn’t focus. I was closer than my minimum focusing distance (MFD) of 3.5m (11.48 feet). Wow. I stepped back six inches and BANG. Focus locked on and I got this shot, the last of the series. You NEVER get that close to a wild bird.

Getting that close reduced my depth of field (DOF) to about an inch (1.18 inches) even at f/6.3. I placed my single focus point on his eye and snapped—his eye and head are tack-sharp even at 100%. He starts to go soft in the shoulder area but who cares—it’s the eye and head that have to be tack-sharp (everything else is forgivable). He filled the frame and other than changing the aspect ratio to 5 x 7 in post this is straight out of the camera. Here is the final image resolution information 3689 x 5164 pixels at 738 pixels per inch (this is stunning resolution and will print very large).

Image #2. To fill the camera frame with a bird in flight (BIF) is problematic to say the least. The bird is hard to keep in the viewfinder and you run the risk of clipping wings and tails as he flies in & out of the frame. Focus is also a bitch (especially with my older Canon EOS 5D Mark II). Subject tracking on my camera is lame and it only shoots at 3 fps so my keeper rate is very low percentage wise. It’s still a great camera but not for wildlife on the move—the Canon EOS 1Dx Mark II (with state of the art autofocus and 14 fps), the new Canon EOS 5D Mark IV (with 1Dx Mark II autofocus and 7 fps) and the Canon EOS 7D Mark II (with modified 1Dx Mark II autofocus and 10 fps) are better choices for wildlife on the move. 

I positioned myself (with my back to the sun) on the edge of the marsh. As the birds flew towards me they were lit beautifully with the morning golden sun (again a catch-light can be seen in the eye). Like Image #1 the focus on this bird is spot-on and tack-sharp when viewed at 100%. This is a real accomplishment with the older Canon EOS 5D Mark II (any Mark II shooters will validate that statement). The final image resolution information  on this image is also stunning: 3017 x 2155 pixels at 431 pixels per inch—again, this photo will print very large indeed.

Image #3. This is another static (still) shot like Image #1 as opposed to a dynamic (moving) BIF shot like Image #2. I dropped to ground level (on my belly) and closed the distance to this beautiful bird. I actually got closer than my MFD again (3.5m) and had to retreat a few inches to get my autofocus to work properly. I can’t tell you how unusual that is—the wildlife photographer’s lament is: you can never get close enough. I filled the camera frame once again and the numbers speak for themselves: 4406 x 3147 pixels with 630 pixels per inch. At these close distances there is no finer wildlife lens than my vintage Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Super-telephoto prime lens.  

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Stephen F. Dennstedt

Photographer, Writer, Traveller

www.IndochinePhotography.me

Southern Patagonia, Argentina

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Is It Time to Join the Adventure?

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Perito Moreno Glacier

Southern Patagonia, Argentina

Is it time to join the adventure? Only YOU can answer that question. Are you an adventurer (or wannabe adventurer), are you a Creative (Photographer, Writer, Artist or Musician), do you enjoy travel and experiencing other cultures, are you enamoured with nature, do you appreciate fine art, do you yearn for a simpler life with less stress, less money and more experiences—if you answered yes to any of those questions I invite you to join my odyssey as I circumnavigate the globe in search of life’s meaning.

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I began my adventure five years ago when I left the United States to pursue a dream: to travel, experience and photograph the world around me and to share those experiences and images with like-minded people. It took me a year to extricate myself from the pop-culture that is now America and to hit the road with just a backpack and my camera gear—I was sixty-four years old. Now I live simple, I live cheap and I live free. You can too if you want to bad enough, or you can just share my travels vicariously from the comfort of your home.

VISIT MY WEBSITE

The first leg of my travels began in Yucatan, Mexico and I’m now finishing up (five years later) in Argentina, South America. I spent a month in Cuba before they lifted the embargo (yeah I snuck in), photographed the wildlife in the jungles of Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. I sailed the Galapagos Islands for two weeks in a small 50-foot wooden boat and immersed myself in the Amazon Rainforest in Cuyabeno, Ecuador. I’ve climbed the ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru, sailed Lake Titicaca and trekked the Atacama Desert in northern Chile.

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Stephen F. Dennstedt

Photographer, Writer, Traveller

I will be finishing up the Latin American part of my worldwide trek in late November and returning to Yucatan, Mexico (where it all began) for a three-month visit to see old friends before going back to San Diego, California in the United States to see family (I haven’t been back since leaving in early 2012). I expect a stay of about three months (March, April and May 2017) before travelling back to Asia to continue my adventure. Click on the provided links to visit my website at Indochine Photography or to subscribe to my free newsletter. Welcome aboard mates and get ready to set sail.

 

New Artwork: Glacier Perito Moreno

 

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Glacier Perito Moreno

(Click on Image)

Patagonia, Argentina

1/1000s @ f/8 ISO 100 @ 24mm

I photographed this stunning glacier about 80km south of El Calafate in Southern Patagonia, Argentina. The day was perfect for capturing the intense beauty of this monument to nature—the dark dramatic clouds enhanced the natural blue hues in the deep ice; in full sun the ice becomes a bright glaring uninteresting white. When huge blocks of ice sheer off from the face of the glacier it’s called calving and sounds like a thunder-clap from God as the ice splashes 60-meters into the lake below.

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Printing Recommendations: This is a very high-resolution image that deserves to be printed large. My first choice would be an Acrylic Print (60 x 33.75 inches) for $680 usd. My second choice would be a Metal Print (60 x 33.75 inches) for $548 usd. My third and final choice would be a Framed Print (49.50 x 32.00 inches) for $522 usd: Image 40 x 22.50 inches; Mat Border 4.00 inches; Frame Width 0.88 inches; printed on Metallic Paper. This is a sleek “cool” print (cool as in temperature) and requires a crisp presentation format (other sizes available including Greeting Cards).

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Stephen F. Dennstedt

Indochine Photography

Photographer, Writer, Traveller

My CameraRAW and PSE11 Workflow

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Chimango Caracara 

Milvago chimango

1/640s @ f/7 ISO 100 @ 400mm

I photographed this beautiful raptor this morning in the Laguna Nimez Nature Reserve in Southern Patagonia, Argentina. The sun was low and still had that golden glow photographers admire so much; it was to my back and coming over my right shoulder providing a nice catch-light in the Caracara’s eye. I often get questions about my processing and thought I would use this image as an example. Below you will see before and after photos.

I always shoot in CameraRAW. I don’t want to abdicate my creative decisions to Canon’s in-camera JPEG algorithms. Not everyone chooses to shoot in RAW but you will find that virtually all professional photographers do and if you’re not I would invite you to start doing so. I spend about 30% of my time capturing the image and 70% processing the image. My software is: Adobe CameraRAW (ACR) and Adobe Photoshop Elements 11 (PSE11).

I’m not going to explain the process here (this is not a tutorial). I am only sharing the particular adjustments I made to this image so you can get an idea of my workflow. These are my creative decisions and you might make completely different decisions—that’s why they call it creative. Duh. So without further adieu here are the adjustments I made and the order in which I made them.

Adobe CameraRAW

  1. I uploaded my CameraRAW file to ACR and immediately viewed it at 100%. If it’s not tack-sharp at 100% I discard it (there is no saving an out-of-focus image). I don’t care how cool it looks—out-of-focus images go in the trash. Remember all Camera RAW files look bland and flat in the beginning (they’re completely neutral with no in-camera processing like a JPEG file).
  2. I next check the White Balance (I shoot in Auto WB mode). In this case I adjusted the WB to 5200 which warmed it up some (reflecting the beautiful golden light of the early morning). I typically like my images warmer as opposed to cooler (cold weather photos being the exception). This is a personal preference and yours may differ. I notice that Canon’s in-camera JPEG algorithms tend to shoot warmer than Nikon’s (remember RAW is neutral).
  3. You can see the RAW image (before) is somewhat underexposed so I bumped the exposure in ACR to +25 (you can see the difference in the processed image (after). The histogram in ACR is helpful but bottom-line it’s another artistic creative decision you must make on your own. Each image requires its own adjustments and no one set of adjustments fits every image scenario
  4. I bumped shadows significantly by +50 to bring out more feather detail in the bird’s plumage but highlights required no adjustment in this case. Again other images will need different adjustments to create a balance between shadows and highlights. Modern digital cameras (especially high MP full-frame cameras) have really increased dynamic range over what we used to get with film.
  5. It’s important to have some true blacks and true whites in an image (yes even in color images). In this case I boosted whites by +35 and lowered blacks by -35. This happened to be an offset and it doesn’t always work that way—treat blacks and whites on their own merits and experiment. This adjustment will automatically add some contrast without using the global contrast slider.
  6. I boosted clarity by +25 and I prefer using this slider as opposed the global contrast slider. It’s my understanding that clarity only enhances the middle range of pixels where the contrast slider affects all pixels. I really like what this adjustment can do for an image and find myself using it more and more. A similar situation occurs with the vibrance slider.
  7. I also increased vibrance by +25. Like the clarity slider it’s my understanding that this color adjustment only effects the middle pixel range. It is much more subtle than using the global saturation slider. In both cases (clarity and vibrance) the affects tend to be more subtle and not over the top. When I’m satisfied with all of my adjustments I upload the RAW image to PSE11 as a JPEG file.

Adobe Photoshop Elements 11

  1. In PSE11 I cropped the image to an 8 x 10 aspect ratio that I found pleasing.
  2. When I first viewed the RAW image in ACR at 100% it was almost tack-sharp. So in PSE11 I only increased sharpening by a radius of 0.50 at 80%.

Photographer’s Note: I have many photographers who follow this blog and my articles at Northrup Photo and they represent all skill levels from the “Newbie” to the seasoned professional. I am not a post-processing guru or expert by any means and many of you know much more about processing than I do. I wrote this to share what I am doing and it will probably change as I continue to learn more. This is simply to encourage photographers to take their processing seriously and to learn as much as they can. Post-processing will not fix a bad photo but it can make a good photo outstanding and memorable. As always, have fun doing what you’re doing. SFD

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 Stephen F. Dennstedt

Photographer, Writer, Traveller

www.IndochinePhotography.me

Southern Patagonia, Argentina

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