Sand Artistry

It was a cloudless, no drama day with a high sky and bright sun,  but I figured I would drive to the oceanfront anyway,  thinking that perhaps I could grab some arty close ups of the wind’s artistry in the sand.  It had been windy on the coast most of the week since the last Nor’easter ; they come with seeming increased regularity now, and I hoped to find some interesting patterns along and behind the dunes.   I wasn’t disappointed.

I lingered after taking the shot with my eye focusing just below the clump of sea grass to the right.  It looked like some miniature Zen garden.

After processing the raw files back home, I uploaded the shot above to my web site and immediately sold two prints.  I also got an email asking if I had taken a larger view of the scene.  I had.  I uploaded that photograph  and it sold right away to one of the buyers of the closeup shot. She wanted to display both together. Lesson learned! Always hang on to the larger view of a cropped scene.  You never know.  Thanks for looking and have a good week ahead.  See you next time.

The Unending Battle

Another Nor’ester has plowed up the Atlantic Seaboard and while North Carolina largely avoided scenes like that in the Boston suburbs of the ocean breaching seawalls and flooding homes and businesses,  all along the Atlantic coast, the storm claimed millions of cubic yards of sand.  A quick visit to the Bogue Banks of North Carolina quickly confirmed the beach erosion.

Further north, along the southern Outer Banks, North Carolina Highway 12 was again temporarily closed due to ocean overwash.   All along the coast, sand fences were erected to hang onto what was left.  

A shot of the vital dune line at Emerald Isle, North Carolina is a vivid reminder of what’s at stake.

Since 1979, the minimum oceanfront setback requirement for permanent structures in North Carolina is 30 times either the historical long-term erosion rate or two feet per year, whichever is larger. It’s measured from the seaward line of stable dune vegetation.   That’s why when you visit the beach, you’ll see signs posted every one hundred feet or so up and down the coast that read, “Stay Off The Dunes.”   Thanks for your visit. See you next time.

Early Birds

They seemed to know something was coming so they were out early on seed patrol before the wind kicked up.  So was I in my makeshift bird blind with the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 at the ready.

This Common Grackle appeared to be waiting for his mate.  A large bronzed black bird with a large tail, long legs and an iridescent bluish glow on his head when the light is at the right angle, the smaller birds give him a wide birth.

Just getting a shot of these Carolina Chickadees is a challenge.  Very quick, flighty little birds, they grab a spot in a nearby tree, dart down to pick up a seed then fly back to almost exact same spot in the tree to break the shell and have a snack.  The trick is to focus on the bird when he first lands in the tree then hold the exposure and wait for him to return.  He almost always will.

The Chipping Sparrows strike me as very quiet, patient little birds who perch and watch for a while before going for a seed.  Then they’ll come back to the tree, hold the seed under a foot and pop it open with their bill.  After a snack, they’ll just perch and watch the action for a while.  Easy to get a shot of, we have lots of them here.

Another rather patient bird, the Dark Eyed Junkos are another of the year round residents here. I’ve always wondered why so many  people in Eastern North Carolina call them snow birds because we get so little snow every year.  I suppose it’s because, when it does snow, their dark feathers make them easy to spot.

The wind quickly began picking up as the Nor’easter took hold, the birds took cover and I headed for the house.  By late morning, the wind was clocking at 45 to 50 miles an hour as the storm began its trek up the eastern seaboard. Have a good week.  See you next time.

Surprise Spring

Is it real?  Nature seems to think the time is right.  A handful of 80 degree days has sent Eastern North Carolina into a frenzy of blooms.  From daffodils to Japanese Quince to Bradford Pear Blooms, the annual infusion of color is underway.

I used a 20 year old Nikon 70-210mm f/4-5.6 D lens on all of these shots.  The “D” lenses have no vibration reduction built into them but the auto focus is as fast as any lens Nikon makes today and obviously, it is very sharp.   BTW, The “D” means the lens communicates distance information to the camera in matrix metering mode. More proof you do not need to spend buckets of money to pick up a good lens. Happy Shooting.  See you next time.

Fragile As A Gardenia Boom


Generalizations are always iffy but I would venture a guess that most of us who venture out every day with our cameras in hopes of nailing that perfect shot have at least a sliver of  of environmental angst lurking in our souls.  And perhaps what draws us to the photographs we make is the fragility of the scene and how even the seemingly innocuous act of just walking along the top of a barrier dune can start to undo what has taken nature years to accomplish. 

I was out one morning before sunrise on the coast recently when a woman walking her dog struck up a conversation with me.  We talked about the endless beauty of what we were seeing. The conversation quickly circled to the now hot issue of drilling for oil off the Carolina beaches.  She asked  if that concerned me?  I thought a moment, admittedly considering whether I wanted to give up a few precious moments of the soon to be sunrise to wallow into conversational quicksand. I decided to answer her this way.   “I was in Santa Barbara, California  during the big oil spill decades ago and since that experience, every time I go into the voting booth, it is with but two issues on my mind: the environment and  my own economic interest.  If there is a conflict,” I said, “I always try to put the environment first,” which I added, “is all too often the collateral damage of human enterprise.”

“Nicely said,” she grinned and walked into the sunrise which was just coming up over the horizon.

Thanks for the visit and have a great week ahead.  See you next time.

Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Lens: First Use.

In my world of photography, the fast professional f/2.8 telephoto lenses  do not exist.  I can’t afford them.  For years, the sharpest telephoto lens in my bag has been Nikon’s 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G VR Lens.  I’ve been through two of the third party 400 and 500 mm offerings and none measured up at the 300 mm range, let alone 500. Nikon’s relatively new full frame 200-500 mm f/5.6 is the game changer. First the negatives. This lens is a Sherman Tank.   The lens weighs in at almost 5 pounds. Suffice to say there’s a lot of metal and glass here. And it’s big.  Fully extended, with the lens hood fitted,  it’s nearly 18 inches long. And obviously, while the f/5.6 constant aperture gives consistent performance throughout the zoom range, it has its limitations in low light situations. If you must shoot in low light, prepare to shell out some very large money.  The price for this lens, just under 14 hundred dollars, and its sharpness at 500mm is what sold me. These photos of a male Northern Cardinal provide ample evidence.

This is an honestly simple,  jpeg shot with no tweaking, straight out of a Nikon D750.  The shot below  was converted to jpeg from a  NEF image (NEF is Nikon’s version of a RAW File) in Photoshop where I applied haze reduction and a slight tweak in color curves.


I used a tripod on both.  The 200-500 comes with a hefty metal tripod collar.  When the lens with collar is fitted to the camera,  it makes for a perfectly balanced package.  Unlike other telephoto lenses with Vibration Reduction,  I found that leaving it on when using a tripod actually added some benefit.  The VR is snappy and provides compensation for the effects of camera shake by up to 4.5  stops. This means, yes, while this lens is a load,  you can shoot it handheld with very good results.

Since I bought this lens primarily for bird shots here on the farm and on the coast, a couple of specs that directly relate to that use.  First, the lens auto focus system is near silent and quite quick. A designated “sports mode” is well-suited to working in fast paced conditions where panning and other lateral camera movements are more common.   Also,  an electromagnetic aperture mechanism that is integrated into the lens design provides greater exposure control stability.  This is especially beneficial when working with high speed shooting rates.  This feature pretty much  limits the lens to to Nikon’s “D”  camera line.  There is also a switch that locks the lens at 200mm. This makes the lens a bit more easy to haul around.  A final note. This lens is way too big for an ordinary camera bag. I picked up a Lowe pro padded lens bag for under 40 bucks that fits this lens perfectly.  Happy shooting everybody.  See you next time.

Buying Used Camera Gear


A cold front marches across the fields from the north here on the farm.  Taken with a Nikon D800E camera bought used from B and H  photo video several years ago. In fact, it had been a display item and never used.  The price was way below retail.

The fact is, camera gear is expensive.  The top of the line Nikon DSLR carries a price tag of more than 6 thousand dollars, but one need not spend anywhere near that kind of money to obtain excellent, reliable cameras, lenses and so forth.  A quick visit to B,&H  Photo Video, Adorama, MPB, Keh and many others can often turn up incredible deals on pricey lenses and cameras,  but it pays to do  some homework on what piques your interest.  One statistic I always look for in used cameras is the number of shutter  snaps.  This is  readily available in the exif data that accompanies every jpeg picture.   Most of the used sites do not reveal this statistic in their ads.  MPB does.  Some will tell you if you inquire. Others will not, but do offer free, no questions asked returns if done within a specified length of time, usually a week.  Another thing to check is whether the item you have your eye on has been recalled by the manufacturer to update firmware, etc. Clear, close up photos of the item are another must for me.  No photos from all angles, no deal.

Just this past week, after checking off all of those little boxes, I purchased a used  Nikon 200-500mm f/ 5.6 lens with vibration  reduction from MPB in near mint condition at a considerable savings below current retail.  One my concerns was a  recall of the lens  by Nikon to correct via firmware update a problem with the auto focus.  A check of the serial number on the lens would tell consumers  whether their lens was subject to the recall.  A quick email to MPB netted the serial number on the item I was interested in and after checking with Nikon, I learned it was not affected.  Based on that information and the like new, near mint condition borne out by close      up photos of the lens published online by MPB, I purchased the lens.  After receiving it, I have a week to check it out and return it if I  change my mind.  No worries with that.

I’ve purchased numerous lenses from MPB in the past and have never had a problem.  Same with B  and H and Adorama. The key here  is to do your homework.  A little due diligence can save you some worry and save you a substantial amount of money.  And, if you take care of your gear, when it comes time to upgrade, you can sell it back to these outfits or trade it for something else. Keep snappin’.    Thanks for the visit and have a good week ahead.  See you next time.