Photographing Bodie Island Lighthouse and the Milky Way



With a weekend forecast of clear skies and moonless nights, I decided to drive to the Outer Banks and photograph Bodie Island Lighthouse with a Milky Way backdrop.  So I loaded up the car and left home at 1:30 pm last Saturday. Arrived at Nags Head at 5:30 pm and, after a quick dinner, drove to the lighthouse to scout for the evening shoot. By nightfall, I had several shots planned. My favorites from the evening are shown.  The last shot of the series was a 3 1/2 hour star trail image, finishing at 4:00 am. Following a sunrise shot at Jeannette’s Pier, I was on my way home, arriving 22 hours after I had left.

Images only added, for now. Within a week I will add some information on the methods used in obtaining these images.

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Photographing the Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech owl in flight

The eastern screech owl is a subject that I’ve wanted to photograph for many years, with no success whatsoever. Although I’d heard their eerie and distinctive song many evenings, I had never even seen one in the wild until this year. In late January I discovered one using several wood duck boxes on my pond as roosts and nocturnal feeding stations. The only photographs I took were of the owl asleep inside a nest box. My luck finally changed in April when I spent six nights over four weekends photographing an eastern screech owl nest at a local refuge where I do volunteer work. The nest was located about 100 feet out in a swamp, where the water depth was two to three feet. On four of the six nights that I spent with them, I used a Phototrap infrared beam tripper, three flashes and two cameras to photograph the owls. As the owls broke the infrared beam, the flashes would fire and the images automatically recorded by the two cameras.

To ensure that the equipment did not interfere with the nightly routine of the owls, I stayed awake the entire first night and used a red-filtered spotlight from a distance to monitor the owls. The flashes did not seem to disturb the owls. They even returned to the nest on two occasions when I was changing the batteries in my cameras about 20 feet away.  On the remaining three nights of Phototrap use, I either sat in a lawn chair or took naps in a sleeping bag at the edge of the swamp.

During the nights I photographed the owls, they visited the nest about every 30 minutes on average. The interval between feedings was much longer when larger prey were delivered. Prey items included insects and insect larvae, fish, crayfish, tadpoles, frogs and mice.

On the final two nights of photography I used a blind to try to photograph the nestlings at the cavity entrance. The first night I had to abort due to a severe thunderstorm that collapsed my blind. The second night I did have some success, capturing images of the nestlings and parents at the nest.

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Posted in Nature, Photography Technique Tagged |

How Big is a Wood Duck?

Wood Ducks are typically shy, elusive creatures of woodland waterways. They are generally less commonly seen than some other types of waterfowl. And for those who have never personally seen one, it’s often hard to tell the size of a wood duck from a photograph. Most such images consist of a single wood duck, a pair, or several in a group. They lack a sense of scale for size comparison.  A field guide will give you the metrics: an average adult wood duck is listed at 18.5 inches in length, with a 30 inch wingspan, and a weight of 1.3 lbs. But that still is not easy visualize.

So I thought I would share some images of wood ducks with some more commonly seen animals, so that you can get a better idea of their size.  However, it may actually just be an excuse to share some images.

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The Old Sautee Store

The Old Sautee Store was built in 1872 at the intersection of two major roads— at the confluence of the Sautee and Nacoochee valleys in the North Georgia mountains. One road, Georgia Highway 17, was originally an old Indian trading path known as the Unicoi Trail. It later became a major roadway for settlers to the region. The Old Sautee Store served the local community as a general store and post office until 1962. Of course, I didn’t know any of this when I first passed by the store while on vacation in the area over New Year’s. All I knew  was that it was a remarkably interesting sight by the roadside.  The small parking lot was full, but I was already planning on returning at night to get some images of the building.  Entering the store led to another surprise. Stepping through the front door was like stepping back in time, for the front portion of the store was maintained as an old general store museum—with an old cash register, weights, scales, canned goods and other sundry items. I immediately headed back out the door to get my camera. Handholding a Nikon D800 with 16-35mm f4 lens, I started taking images whenever the front portion of the store was free of other visitors.


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Posted in Locations

The Outer Banks…..Again

I took another family vacation to the Outer Banks last October. The only serious photography I did was spend two evenings photographing Cape Hattaras and Ocracoke Lighthouses. The weather didn’t cooperate for any morning photography. The images sat unprocessed on my computer until just recently. All images were taken with naturally occurring light, for the most part, with a just a little light from a flashlight in a couple of instances. The evening I photographed Cape Hattaras Lighthouse, a storm was brewing in the distance. I waited, hoping the storm would come closer, but it remained in the distance and slowly rolled southward. However the sheet lightning lit up the cloud bank during the 30 second exposures. Continue reading »

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Tamron 150-600mm f5.0-6.3 Lens Test: Part 2


In Part 2 of my review of the Tamron 150-600 f5.0-6.3 lens, I show the results of the controlled test I used to compare the Tamron lens to the Sigma 300-800, and Nikon 200-400 lenses. I used a 1951 USAF resolution chart test that I purchased from Edmund Scientific about 20 years ago. A check of their website revealed that they are still selling them. Some of the charts are quite expensive. I recommend the Resolving Power Chart for $35 at

or the Pocket 1951 USAF Optical Test Pattern for $6.00 at

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Posted in Photography Technique Tagged |

Tamron 150-600 f5.0-6.3 Lens Test: Part 1


Update—23 May 2017: There are better long telephoto zoom lenses available now than this Tamron 150-600. The choices include the newer  2nd generation Tamron 150-600mm f5- 6.3 G2, the Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 Contemporary, the Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 Sport, and the Nikon 200-500 f5.6. I personally would recommend any of the 150-600 zooms over the Nikon 200-500 simply because of the extra 100mm of zoom length. If there is one thing I have learned in the past 20 years of bird photography, it is that there is no substitute for reach; an extra 100mm of focal length is a big advantage.

Photographer Brad Hill extensively evaluated many of these long telephoto zooms in a series of blog posts between March and December 2015.  Here is a link to his blog. You’ll have to scroll back through the blog to find the posts on these lenses. The best performer in his opinion was the Sigma 150-600mm Sport. Based partly on his review, I sold my Tamron last year and bought the Sigma 150-600mm Sport.  It is extremely well built, quite sharp, and overall I have been very pleased with the lens. However I must admit that if I had read this review prior to my purchase, I may have opted for the lighter, less expensive Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary.





Although I received my Nikon mount Tamron 150-600 several weeks ago, I didn’t get to really test it out well until this past weekend. I decided to do field and resolution chart tests comparing the Tamron to my Sigma 300-800 f5.6 lens and Nikon 200-400 f4.0, ver 1 lens (with and without the TC14EII teleconverter). The camera used was a Nikon D800. All lenses had had their AF calibrated using Michael Tapes’ LensAlign. The field test consisted of photographing a Great Crested Flycatcher nest while the chart test utilized the 1951 USAF  resolution chart pattern. I post full frame and 100% crop images of the field test as well as 200% crops of the resolution chart images; so you’ll be able to judge lens quality for yourself. Bottom line: I was very impressed with Tamron 150-600mm lens. And surprisingly, I found myself retesting the 200-400 with the 1.4X teleconverter to try to determine why it was the poorest performer. Continue reading »

Posted in Photography Technique Tagged |

Photographs and Memories: 4 April 2011

Wood Duck

Photographs are moments in time captured on film or digital medium. The viewer sees only the image itself, generally representing a mere fraction of a second in time. The photographer experienced the whole photographic event: all the time and effort involved, any previous unsuccessful attempts, and the beauty, splendor, excitement and anticipation involved in the activity up until that moment of exposure. The result: an image that can trigger memories for the photographer that can’t be conveyed to the viewer. This immersion in the whole experience is one reason why it may be hard for a photographer to be totally objective about his work. It is also the reason why a photographer’s favorite images are sometimes not necessarily his best ones.

A perfect example is the image of the wood duck accompanying this post. I have better images of wood ducks, but this one remains my favorite. To understand why, you have to know the story behind the image. Continue reading »

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The Outer Banks: Piers and Lighthouses






In the last post I shared some pelican images from my recent Outer Banks trip. In this post I’m going to share some of the scenic images taken during the trip. As mentioned previously, I had limited time available for photography and used Jared Lloyd’s ebook to plan my photo outings. I spent two mornings photographing sunrise at Jennette’s Pier and one night each at Currituck Beach Lighthouse and Bodie Island Lighthouse. I wish I’d had time to also search out more unique photo opportunities, but due to time factors I concentrated on these more iconic locations.  I often incorporate light painting in my low light photography and did so in some of these images.  For those interested, at the end of this post I’ll provide some reference sources that I have found helpful in learning about night photography and light painting. Continue reading »

Posted in Locations

The Outer Banks: The Pelicans of Roanoke Island


In late February I spent four days on the Outer Banks. Although it was a family vacation I did manage to find some time for photography. I woke early two mornings for sunrise shoots at a local pier. On two evenings I found time for night photography at nearby lighthouses. However, being primarily a wildlife photographer, I most enjoyed the three hours I spent one afternoon with brown pelicans on Roanoke Island.

Let me first put in a plug for an ebook by photographer Jared Lloyd, The Photographer’s Guide to the Outer Banks. If not for the ebook, I would not have known about this location for pelicans. Jared Lloyd is a talented photographer who grew up on the Outer Banks and has photographed there for many years. He knows the photographic opportunities there, both wildlife and scenic. His guide tells you where the best locations are, as well as the best times to be there. I highly recommend the ebook to anyone planning a photography trip to the Outer Banks. When you factor in the costs of travel and lodging, plus time scouting the area on your own, the price of the ebook is a bargain. You can purchase it at

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Posted in Locations