Sunday, December 21, 2008

DIY Backdrop or Reflector

This last summer I did a lot of hummingbird photography. To do hummers it takes a lot of set up time with backgrounds and reflectors. Most of the time I used colored sheets or fabric hung from my studio back drop. This was a major pain when the sun shifted or the wind came up. When that happens you have to take down the backdrop and then set it up again to keep the back drop out of the sun or wind. Studio back drops resemble sail boats. They can really move in the wind.They move right over into the ground or onto your spouses favorite rose! I did get some good hummer images but my mind got to thinking there has to be a better way.

The Dollar Tree comes through again! ( Hey, When are you corporate guys going to start paying me for plugging your store all the time?). I had better get to the point here huh? Well anyway I was in there yesterday and I noticed that they had plastic table cloths that were a perfect sky blue. To top it off they were 54 inches by 108 inches. A pretty good size. Then I saw that they had black,red and a couple of other shades of yellow and another blue and even a bright white. Wow, I thought to myself these will work pretty good for cheap, throw away back drops. The white can be used as both a reflector or a background.

I was still stuck with the same old problem though. What could I put it on that would stand up in the wind and be easy to move? The answer came to me this morning. I was excavating ‘er I mean cleaning out my garage. While cleaning I came across two 4'x8' sheets of quarter inch Masonite. It's similar to pegboard except there are no holes in it. Masonite is fairly light though a little to flexible to stand on its own. I immediately went down to the Dollar Tree and bought some thumb tacks and some of the table cloths. The next stop was the lumber yard where I bought eight 1" x 2" x 8' furring strips for a dollar thirty five a piece. I also grabbed a couple of handfuls of inch and a half wood deck screws and then some ¾” ones as well. The next step was really easy. My wife even remarked. "You sure did that fast."

Basically I made a four foot by eight foot rectangular frame out of the one by twos. I then put the Masonite on top of the frame and screwed it down tight. I then took three one by twos and used them to stiffen up the back. At present all that remains to be done is to tack the table cloth onto the framework with the thumbtacks and I have got a backdrop or in the case of the white tablecloth a great reflector. These are going to come in really handy for both backyard bird photography and studio work. I could even hinge two of them together and have a bookend reflector.

So how do you stand one of these up? At present I'm only using one as a backdrop for my bird photos. I'm just tying it to a step ladder and sometimes to a tree (depending upon the sun) with a short piece of rope. For indoor use I'm thinking of making a a plywood base with some small angle braces made of either plywood or one by two. For those of you with standard eight foot ceilings you may have to cut down your frame a few inches to be able to use it indoors.

I have taken a few sample pictures with one and they came out OK. But what was fantastic is that the back drop didn't move an inch in the wind. It was also very easy to move and reset up in a new location. I sprayed a little green spray paint on the plastic tablecloth to break it up a bit for a couple of the images.

My next step is going to be to paint one side black and the other side white and check out how well they will work in a studio setting. One side will act as a gobo and the other as a reflector. If I hinge two of them together it will make a really sturdy bookend reflector.

God's precious light to you and your loved ones,


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

DIY Provide a Perch

One of the best tools a bird photographer can have in her or his possesion is a pair of pruning shears. For what you may ask? Well for providing perches for the birds you photograph to land on. For those of you that are old hands at backyard bird photography there probably is no need to read on. For those of you new to photographing birds this is one of the best tricks of the trade in photographing birds in your backyard and sometimes in other places too.

So what do you need? Not much really. Just a pair of pruning shears or a limbing saw and access to your own yard or someone elses with permission to cut some twigs, limbs or even whole small dead trees. Just wander around the property and look for plant material that you can cut off that would make a nice perch for the birds you want to photograph. Don't limit yourself to just dead parts of plants either. Look for plants with blosoms, leaves or fruit. Just be sure what you cut off isn't going to damage the plant you are pruning. One other thing to take into account is that some of the smaller birds sometimes don't always photograph well on really large limbs or branches. There are exceptions to this of course for example the banch may be covered in moss or have an incredible wood grain pattern.

So now that you have gathered a bunch of perches what's next? Well a lot depends upon what type of bird feeders you have. You can tape, tie, wire or drill your perch to the feeder. Start with just one perch. (You can use the others later) Just make sure that it sticks out from the feeder in a natural sort of way for the birds to land on. Keep in mind that the whole idea here is to provide a perching place for the birds to use that are coming to your feeder. Some people even place it on a pole a few feet away from the feeder.

Remember that birds don't weigh a lot so you don't have to have a major construction project here.Most birds like to use a feeder that is close to cover they can dive into if they sense a predator. So you need to place your feeders about ten to fifteen feet away from suitable cover such as a hedge or bush. Take care here to place the feeder in a position where you have a good background back behind it. A good back ground should be uniform in color and uncluttered. Often times the same hedge or bush will do.

With regards to feedrs the best kinds are ones that can be moved easily from place to place so that you can change the background or position the feeder for better light. Also check with your local birding store. There are different types of feeders for different birds. In my yard my primary feeder is on a cart so I can move it from place to place. Sometimes it will take the birds a few days to locate its new position however.

The perches you provide don't always have to be small tree parts either. In the past I have used lichen and moss covered rocks and even tree stumps. Another photographer I know that photographs raptors (birds of prey hawks etc.) dug up a large dead tree on a friends property. He had it hauled on a flat bed trailer to a large field where hawks hunt a lot. He then used a backhoe stand the tree back up into a hole to shoot pictures of hawks using the tree as a perch. So be creative.

Once you have your feeder and perch situated find a hidden spot to photograph your birds from. You can shoot from behind the curtains from a window in your house or set up a blind nearby. Whatever the case enjoy taking some shots of your favorite perching birds.

All of the sample pictures were taken using perches that I have placed next to my bird feeders. Most of them were attached to the feeder using wood screws or bailing wire.

God's light and love to all,


Friday, July 25, 2008

DIY Large Water Feature Results

Well Ladies and Gentlemen today I finally got to spend some time creating a few images from the new large water feature. I am sorry that the picture order from the last blog was a bit mixed up. No matter how I tried to arrange it it seemed to get published in the wrong order. The pond has been up for three days and the local birds and squirrels have discovered that it a great place to stop in for a quick bite to eat and a bath. So here are a few samples for you to peruse.
god's light and love to you all,


DIY Large Water Feature

Well I have been busy. I am slowly sorting out my vacation images a little bit each day. I'm fitting in taking pictures wherever i can amidst doing work around the house. We just completed an archeological dig of one of our closets. It ended up being carbon dated clear back to 1989 when i first moved into this house. I will admit it looks a lot cleaner. The senior center thrift store got some nice stuff out of it too.

Well I wasn't satisfied with my last water feature. It was drawing in the birds but I didn't like its location and the fact that I couldn't always get a full reflection of a bird in it. It got me to thinking it's time to build another big pond like I used to have a couple of years ago. I had it on my neighbors property across the road for several years. When the property sold I had to take it down. They can be taken apart and moved and set up again but I never got around to it so the wood just rotted away.

This water feature is for someone with a yard with plenty of room as it is four feet by eight feet in size. The birds absolutely love it. Once they start using it you will have birds using it through out the day.
Basically the pond is a four by eight sheet of plywood set on top of an old table. An old picnic table will do as will a table picked up cheap from a garage sale.

Step one is to seal a sheet of plywood with varathane, polyurethane or some other type of wood sealer.
Step two is to cut two 1'x4'x8' diagonally lengthwise. One set will be used to make the sides for the pond. the other set will be placed lengthwise on the table to provide some slope for the pond to have a deep end.
The third step is to use some 1" woodscrews to fasten the sides and the deep end piece of 1"x4" to the plywood. This is a little tricky because you have to screw them down from the backside of the plywood. Be careful when you get to the shallow end that you don't go all the way through with the wood screws.
Step number four is to place the other set of diagonal 1"x4"s lengthwise on the table. The thick or fat end will be the shallow end.Now put the plywood on top of the wood pieces. Carefully cover it with black visquen plastic and fill it with water. If your table isn't level here you may have to add some small wedges or pieces of wood to help level it up. You want the water to hit right on the brim of the deep end of the pond. You can get better reflections this way.
Step number five is to place rocks all around the edges of the pond. Place two of your biggest rocks at the front corners to hide the sides of the pond. Place the rest of the bigger rocks across the back to provide a backdrop.
The last and final step is step six. Fill in between the rocks with what rocks and gravel you have left over. Then place a thin layer of the smallest gravel and sand across the center to cover up the bottom of the pond.
From here you can add plants, sticks,moss and any other natural looking thing you can think of. I attach a platform feeder to the side and fill it with black sunflower seed. On the other side I put a bowl of henscratch. I keep this away from the water as they tend to kick it around and knock corn into the water.
I set up my blind about six feet away from the deep end of the pond and i set my tripod height so that it is about two inches above water level. you can go lower but the water will sometimes look milky when you get that low.
This is a fun project. what's nice about it is that you can move it if you have to. First pick of all the big rocks. then get a flat shovel and just shovel he gravel and smaller rocks into five gallon buckets. with someones help you can easily move the plywood and the table to a new location and et it up again.
One final tidbit. I keep a hose with a small valve and a clear plastic line going from my blind to the pond. That way when I'm shooting if the ponds water level goes down too much I can add water without disturbing the birds.

God's blessings and love to all,


Thursday, July 10, 2008

DIY The Most Comfortable Blind Ever

Greetings from smoke filled Northern California,

Yes, it's true. I have a blind that has a TV, fridge and a computer w/ internet. It's also heated. On top of that it has the most comfortable chair I have ever used in a blind. So before you think I'm nuts. (I know many of you do) Let me state simply that the most comfortable blind in the world is the office inside my house. Quite simply I do a good percentage of my bird photography right out the back window of my house. I place my rolling feeder in appropriate lighting with a good background right next to my office window. There are holes drilled in the rolling feeder in which to place branches of different types for perches for the birds to land on.

To create a blind out of one of your windows can be as simple as tacking up a piece of fabric over the window with a hole in it for your camera. I like something a little more secure so I use a piece of 1/8" masonite that is cut to the window size.
To create it I first measure the window and then cut the board to size. I then tape pieces of strips of towel around the outside perimeter of the masonite to keep the windowsill from geting scratched up. Following that I sit down in front of the board with my tripod set up with me sitting in the chair I intend to use for shooting out of. This gives me a really good idea of where to mark the opening that I need to cut in the masonite for shooting. I then cut the opening and then place it back in the window to see if it works ok. Sometimes i may need to modify the opening with further cuts. The last and final step is to tape a piece of netting or batting hanging from the top just above the hole to cover the hole up. I like to cut it in about 2" wide strips.

The flat board fits easily behind the door or it can be stored in the garage or basement ready for use. You can also cut extras for different windows in your house to shoot from.

God's blessings to all,


Monday, July 7, 2008

DIY Dragonfly Pond

Hi to all,
Just returned from a well needed vacation. Now I have more photo work than I know what to do with. I have well over two thousand images to sort through. Luckily a lot of them are family vacation pictures some of which will be good enough to add to my stock files. Thanks to willing family nonprofessional models. They're cheap. Well, maybe not now that I think about how much the vacation cost my wife and I.

I hope everyone out there is being creative and taking fantastic images. Yesterday i hit upon a cheap dragonfly pond that has been sitting under my nose for over two years. My children have a kiddie pool that they have long outgrown. They have been using it to save pollywogs from our real backyaed pond that has a small waterfall. The pollywogs get caught in the pump. So my son and daughter have been tranfering them to the kiddie pool for the last two springs. They keep it full and we have a lot of tree frogs hatch out. Now lo and behold this cheap pond has been attracting dragonflies like crazy. I could never figure out how to photograph them. The flew all around the pond and would never land. When they did land it was always in some difficult place to shoot. High up in the trees or on the ground.

My brain finally hit upon a solution. Give the dragonflys a place to land! I found a small tree branch and a few bricks. I put the bricks in the water to prop up the stick. I went over to the patio table sat down and waited. Within a few minutes a dragonfly circled the little branch a few times and then settled down and landed. He began to shoot out now and then to grab an insect out of the air. But he always came back and settled down onto the stick again.

I was in business. I took a chair and taped a colored piece of tagboard to it as a backdrop. I then set it behind the pond and sat down in a chair and waited. I shot a wide variety of images in less than an hour. As it turns out the dark siding on our house works well as a background pretty well too.

So those of you out there that might want to photograph dragonflys in your back yard an old kiddie pool might just do the trick. If you live on a ranch or a farm maybe prop up a stick in your livestocktank. A word of safety here. Plastic wading pools could be a hazard for toddlers and young children. Please keep them in a locked fenced area away from children. Another point to consider is mosquitos. We put mosquito fish in ours to keep the little buggers from breeding in it. The last thing you want to do is create a mosquito hatchery for your neighborhood.

My next plan of attack is to try putting a stick out at one of my favorite dragonfly shooting spots at a nearby lake. I'll let you know how that goes.

God's blessings to all,


Monday, June 16, 2008

DIY Moth Photography

Today's post isn't very complicated. In fact it's pretty darn straight forward and simple. I'm sure you can figure out any details I may have left out on yer own.
Macro photography of insects is an addictive habit. I love chasing after butterflys,dragonflys,grasshoppers you name it. For some reason early this spring I got hooked on moth madness. Turn the light on and they will come. I noticed that there were a lot of moths this year compared to last. In fact last years spring was so drawn out there was a major die off of many species of moths and butterflys in my area. This resulted in bats struggling to find food sources. Well I'm off topic here.

The basic premise is to leave an outdoor light on all night. In the morning you go out and photograph the accumulated moth species that have gathered on the outside of your house. In researching some moth sites. Yes, there are moth sites. I found that many scientists collect moths by putting a light behind a large white sheet draped between two poles or even stepladders. They sometimes use black or ultraviolet light sources.

In the morning if it is a cool one I have found that you can sometimes, I repeat, sometimes move moths to a more natural setting by slipping a dark piece of construction paper slowly under them and carefully carrying them to a new spot and slowly sliding them off.

I use natural light, a tripod and a gold metalic reflector to fill the shadows. The lens I use is a 100mm flat field focus lens made by Phoenix. This lens is identical to theVivitar and probably made for a few other companies as well. I use it with a set of Kenko extension tubes.

So turn on the lights sweet darlin' tonight we're gonna play.

God's light and love to all,