Larry Treadwell  

The Sentinel by Larry Treadwell

January 2020 - The Sentinel

About the Image(s)

Nikon D800, with 200-400mm f4 lens plus TC1.4. ISO 500, f7.1, 1/60 second. Both tripod (with gimbal head) and photographer were standing in waist deep water. Camera was set in manual mode.

Late in the afternoon on an overcast day I came across this male snowy staking out his territory. I was awed by his very formal appearance and his reflection in the still waters of a small pond. He was a bit too far away so after setting my camera pack on the bank I slowing waded into the pond---this is my version of cropping with my feet to maintain image quality. I want to stress that it was not dark, and there was plenty of light. Note the camera setting, especially the relatively low ISO. The photographic magic that creates this image was using spot metering on the brightest spot of the bird’s neck. The camera therefore exposed that white section perfectly and also allowed me to retain detail in the feathers of both the bird and his reflection while under exposing everything else in the frame. If I had used matrix metering you would be looking at a very ordinary image with the greens and browns of mangroves as a background. This is a technique that I often use with wildlife and especially with white subjects. If you use matrix metering you will almost always blow out the whites. I could have shot this at f5.6 (remember I used a teleconverter) but I felt the need a bit more DOF so I bumped it up to F7.1. Using single spot back button focus I focused directly on the bird’s eye. I toggled the focus spot slightly to the right so that the subject would not be in the center of the image. Since I did not have a cable release attached to the camera I used a finger roll technique to trip the shutter without vibrating the camera since the shutter speed was on 1/60 with a focal length of 550mm. I am especially pleased with the sharpness of this image and I will happily credit Nikon for producing such a sharp, clear and fast lens. I am assuming that my long lens shooting technique also played a roll. The camera was set to burst mode and I fired three shots. This image is the first shot.

In post I slightly lowered the black point and darkened shadows to enhance the negative space feeling then added sharpness (I always add sharpness on every digital image). I used a very small adjustment brush to add yellow and some vibrance to the bird’s feel and bill. I also used a slightly larger adjustment brush to bring out the foliage in the water below the branch and to the left of the branch. I did this because I wanted to retain some feeling of the environment in which this bird lives and add some balance to the image. I could have cloned this foliage out but chose not to. This is nearly a full frame image.

This round’s discussion is now closed!
14 comments posted

Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
I added a white border after I saw the image on our group page. I wanted to be sure you could see the composition and crop of the image as I intended on the black background of the page. Normally I never put borders on my images but I thought seeing the image as it was intended mattered.   Posted: 01/01/2020 08:04:19

Michael Weatherford   Michael Weatherford
Well, that's a wonderful shot. I must admit that I would have shot from the bank and fixed it up in Lightroom, with much less successful results. Thanks for the inspiration to get more involved in the field and "get it right in camera".   Posted: 01/01/2020 11:07:21
Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
Thank you Michael. For me standing on the bank was not a good option because then I would be shooting down on the bird--not a good angle as I lost the eye level and it foreshortened the reflection.   Posted: 01/01/2020 17:47:54

Stephen Levitas   Stephen Levitas
(Group 32)
I have lots of comments on this one, Larry.
First of all, thanks for the lesson on spot metering. Very clear.
Second, how does "finger roll" work exactly? When I want to be careful about vibration, I press down on the shutter release with my forefinger, and simultaneously up with my thumb from below.
All your other choices look great, and a great story of course.
But most important of all--how did you persuade the bird to stand still through all of your activity, especially wading into its watery domain?   Posted: 01/02/2020 22:17:29
Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
Finger Roll
The finger roll technique is part of what I refer to as long lens technique. This is something I do EVERY time I shoot with a long lens. Modern camera have so many pixels that they are able to render a final image in amazing detail, but they also will show off any little errors in the photographer's technique. The little flaws in technique are at the heart of most non sharp images. The real issue is vibration. Vibration normally starts at the camera body and travels like a wave toward the front element and then back to the camera body. This is why you should use your left hand to press down on the barrel of the lens while the lens sits on a tripod or monopod. You should next press your eye against the eyecup as it helps to stabilize the camera body. Most photographers poke at the shutter release, actually pushing it down. This down ward stab impacts the body of the camera and introduces vibration. To avoid this do not place you shooting finger on top of the shutter release. Instead slightly rotate your shooting finger backward toward your face while placing the portion of your finger nearest your thumb against the base of the shutter release. Now when you are ready to shoot you roll the finger toward the front of the camera to depress the shutter release. Please note I use back button focus so I am using my thumb to maintain focus. Thus I can partially roll my thumb onto the shutter release to almost the point of firing. When I decide to shoot only the slightest of a roll trips the shutter without introducing vibration. No poking, no stabbing, just a soft roll. It takes practice, but for me it is now second nature. If you want to see the results just look at my images, everything is always sharp and I'm using all those pixels I paid for to best advantage. I actually have used this technique to shoot owls from a monopod at 1/8 of a second and still get sharp images. Oh yes, when you shoot---hold your breath----don't breathe---it is about that vibration thing.   Posted: 01/03/2020 13:20:21
Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
Bird Stalking

It starts with biology----I study my subjects and understand their behavior. During mating season I know that male snowy egrets stake out and defend their chosen territory. They will not leave unless they feel threatened and if they leave, they will come back in a few minutes. He actually left before I got into the water. I didn't even move an inch, he came back a couple of minutes later. There was nothing else in the water he could perch on, so the odds were in my favor. Sudden movement introduces panic. For this shot, I was alone, not another human in sight. I made no noise. I was also carrying a tripod already extended, with camera attached. The legs of the tripod were pointing forward so to set it up required only tipping it down into the water, the lens would be pointing toward the subject when the tripod hit the water introducing less movement. I had a 550mm lens attached so I did not have to get real close. Note my subject is actually more than twice the size of the bird because I'm including the reflection and some room both above and below the subject. I literally slid my feet into the water, gliding them forward, not picking them up. I was ever so slow, making no splash, and nearly no ripples. If the bird made any movement, I froze and waited. I took several shots as I crept closer (in case he left) My eye never left the bird I adjusted my camera setting without looking at the camera (this takes practice). It also takes some arm strength to move the tripod and rig while it is in front of you (left hand on the tripod, right on the lens). All this is why I shoot alone. Some of the earlier shots are OK, but the one shown here is what I was trying for. If the bird had left, well, there will be another day. I have patience. Remember last month's alligator picture----I spent 11 hours getting that one.
  Posted: 01/03/2020 13:47:24

Mark Winter   Mark Winter

What a beautiful photo and composition! The lighting is really spectacular, and I do love the "deep" feeling of that dark negative space. OK, I do have to ask this since I believe you shot this in FL :-). First, did you have hip waders on?? And second, being in FL, do you worry about alligators when in the water?   Posted: 01/11/2020 19:03:37
Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
Thanks for the compliment on the technical aspects of the shoot. As a rule I hate to photograph "birds on a stick" but this one just seemed to have some real possibilities.

No, I do not wear hip waders. Usually just long pants with zip off bottoms and Teva sandals for river walking so the water drains out.

Those who know the Everglades have gator rules.
Rule 1 STAY OUT OF THE WATER IN MATING SEASON then the gators are all about hormones and really dangerous.

Rule 2 Look before you get in. The water is clear and you can see the trouble.

Rule 3 of gators are prowling---stay out. You can see them stalking.

Rule 4 Stay out of cloudy murky water and stay out at dawn and dusk---feeding time.

Rule 5 Cold water is safe water.

Rule 6 Do not splash----then you sound like something wounded and that sounds like dinner.

I learned from a Gator hunter about 25 years ago and got lots of advice and corrections when I was doing it wrong. To date I have had no problems. I don't deal with gators like the ones that caused the problem at Disney World several years ago. People feed those gators and it makes them really dangerous. The ones in the wild, usually just go way. In my 25 years of hanging out with gators I've only had to poke two with my tripod because they were getting a bit close.

I close by noting, as I get older, I tend to stay in the knee deep water of less. I think I'm becoming a chicken. :-) But if I don't post photos one month---then I probably had a bit of an encounter.

If I feed the gator--I only feed them alarm clocks like in Peter Pan. Then I can hear them ticking when they approach.

  Posted: 01/11/2020 20:02:06

Richard Matheny   Richard Matheny
Great Image Larry. I really like the way you used the negative space to highlight the beauty of the Egret. I would be a big fan of the negative space club if there was one. I am seeing form this image that I need to leave somethings in the photo to create a more pleasing shot. Going total black is very dramatic but does not say much for the environment in the story your trying to tell with the image. Thanks for the lesson. Your knowledge of the wild life should be a lesson we all need to work for. It will make chasing birds and critters so much more successful. Here in the Low Country I do not do much wading because we have this thing called pluff mud, so the stability of old folks wading in the ponds and lagoons could be liquefying experience. Plus we have our share of Gators as well and the water is never clear.
  Posted: 01/14/2020 08:33:57
Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
Several thoughts on your response. Negative space does not always mean a whole lot of emptiness. I means using the space to tell the story. So the empty space has to have a purpose. I don't do this as much as I probably should. I find it useful to think of the negative space as a background.

I chose this image for this month because I thought it might give you some ideas. I am really glad it got you thinking. That was the entire thought behind my submission.

We all know about raptors pooping before flight. I try to learn something about the critter I plan to shoot It really helps in the field. I always try to take a plan into the field. If nothing shows for my plan then it becomes a matter of winging it. But I try to think about what I want to accomplish. I belong to a PSA Nature Study group. The moderators stress making the image (a single image) tell a story. So if I go into the field with the idea in the back of my head of telling a story, then it makes me think before I click the shutter. Rather than just taking a photo of a deer (that means no "oh look there is a deer" click) I try to think, why is the deer here and what is he going to do and how can I tell that to others. Often it means I have to figure out where and how I'm going to get this photo. That gets me a better shot.   Posted: 01/14/2020 20:51:15
Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
See you understand Rule #4!! :-)   Posted: 01/14/2020 20:52:18

Todd Grivetti   Todd Grivetti
What a magnificant capture Larry. In reading others' comments I don't have much to add this month. I really like the top lighting on the egret which allows it to really stand out against the background. You were definitely able to "fill the frame" with the great detail.

I appreciate the education on how you use shutter roll. I have changed back recently to back button focus as well. I had tried for a while, and switched back to regular AF or MF. Learning some newer techniques from Mark Muench through CreativeLive made me change back.

You have kept with the "mysterious" theme this month as well. I appreciate the left lower side of the water with the hint of reflection of the trees in the water and the leading lines that form the Y from the egret to the reflection. Beautiful capture!   Posted: 01/18/2020 08:14:51
Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
You are very kind and observant with your comments. You noted several of the things that the judges noted when this photo won third place in an international photo contest.   Posted: 01/18/2020 17:32:53

Madhusudhan Srinivasan   Madhusudhan Srinivasan
Classy image Larry. Post processing is just right to keep the viewer's eyes ONLY on the bird and its reflection briefly. Amazing!
I get goose bumps by reading your pointers about dealing with gators... I don't think I could dare that :)
Interestingly, I think, this image will be well suited for a horizontal frame with only the bird too(keeping away the reflection). However, making it very usual and boring though.
Lastly, this pic reminds me of your gator image in the past month for some reason...   Posted: 01/20/2020 08:18:17