Study Group 2

Andy S. Hayes, ARPS, EFIAP

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 Otter and Crab

Goal: To capture images of otters going about their business, eating, sleeping and swimming along the coastal inlets.
Equipment / Source:  1DX MkII, 600mm f/4, ISO 800, f/7.1
1/2500 sec

Technique: I travelled to the west coast of Scotland to track otters in the bays off the Atlantic coast.

Started to look for otters from about 7:00am. The weather was dull and overcast and the wind was causing a swell in the water. Came across two individual otters in the morning, kept down wind and low to the horizon. Tried to anticipate the otters movements and only moved when they had dived a couple of times. The otters didn't move as expected and headed over to the other side of the inlet. The swell made it hard to see otters in the waves. At around lunch the skies opened up and had heavy rain for about 30 mins. After this the skies opened up and the wind dropped. Found an otter asleep on the seaweed and crawled with in about 15 mtrs of the otter, lay prone on the ground and waited for the otter to stir. As long as you stay low, down wind and don't move the otters are not aware of you and go about their business. From then on I came across several otters at different times and captured some great shots both in and out of the water. I particularly like this shot as it shows the otter with crab moving onto a flat rock to eat.

 This is quite a big crop from an image that shows most of the otter climbing out of the water. Some sharpening and dulling down of the highlights.

Comments/Scores (N, T, P, E, Total)

    Critique Image (only members of Study Group Two may critique this image)

Review by commentator Rick C.

You retained excellent image quality for a large crop. I feel the story is there, but wouldn’t have minded seeing more of the otter. Your primary focus and DOF look good to my eye. The basic exposure is reasonable, but I think you could open it up by at least a half stop without risking anything. I would mask that to limit it to just the otter and crab. Otherwise, I would recommend opening up the shadows and dodging the face area, particularly near the eye. The one unfortunate thing is that the crab’s leg obscures the otter’s eye somewhat. I think the paneled composition works for the crop you are sharing.

N-3, T-3, P-2 =8 (P-2 Open up the detail in the otter more, particularly around the head and eye.)

Review by Mike P.
I think this is a strong nature story, certainly depicting the eating habits and habitat of the otter. I like the way you cropped this into a strong horizontal, while leaving some breathing room on the right. This also illustrate that nature photography often revolves around catching just the right moment.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-0, total-9

Review by Les L.
Just a great nature photo. Can only make one minor comment and that is you might lighten the otter's eyes. Scores tell what I think of your picture.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-1, Total-10

Review by Butch S.
Your efforts and patience paid off--a great image. Nice action. The Bokeh of the background is good. The white space at mid-right is not supportive of a g great Bokeh. But to me that is nit-picking.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-1, Total-10

Review by Dorothy P-R
I love this image and the story of nature. What a wonderful capture of the elusive otter. The detail is wonderful. It's as if I can hear the otter snapping down on his meal. The front foot is showing the sleekness of the otter and force he has to make this catch. You clearly can tell he had been in the water and was rewarded with a meal. What a great image indeed. I feel this has all the strong elements of a nature photograph.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-1, Total-10

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Title:  Razorbill Pair

Goal:    I was looking for some early seabird activity on a familiar nesting site. Hoping to get some early pairing off of nesting birds.

Equipment / Source:    Canon 1DXMkII, 400mm f/2.8, ISO 640
f/7.1, 1/1250

Technique:  The area is a reserve for nesting seabirds and exposed to the east and the North Sea. Its a fair hike along the cliff tops to see the numerous birds. I walk along to areas I know will give me the vantage points for the birds Im looking for. I tend to be there early morning or early evening for the best light. I set myself down on a suitable location and position the tripod and gear. Then I will scour the cliff faces to see if I can find an interesting subject. Once I've located a subject I will alter my set up to suit the location. Then I sit and wait for some interaction and take my shots. After which I will move to another location. I will tend to underexpose, expose for the whites or use exposure bracketing.

Processing:   The razorbill and guillemots are difficult birds due to there black and white plumage. I try to get the catchlight in the eye.  

Comments/Scores (N, T, P, E, Total)

Critique Image (only members of Study Group Two may critique this image)

Review by Commentator Dan C.

The lighting is working for you.  There are many times you cannot even get a catch light.  Razorbill eyes are always tricky elements.  The black and white feather areas are also very tricky exposure challenges.  You held the dynamic range well with this image.

The interaction between the birds in the pair and the rocky cliff setting give this image a very strong nature story.  Those rocks in the cliff also cause a pictorial problem.  The out of focus rocks in the lower left corner slow my entry into the balance of the image.  Flipping horizontal makes the softness of these rocks less of a problem.  The flipping also makes that terrific soft background contribute more to the image since I need to go through it to get to the pair. Reducing the amount of rocks keeps the same story about the location but focuses even better on the pair.

N3, T3, P2, E0, Total 8

Review by Commentator Rick C.

I think you pretty much nailed this one. All of the basic technical aspects look to be handled well in my opinion. I enjoy the moment of interaction you caught and the fact that you were able to get a highlight in one of their eyes. That truly is a challenge when shooting Razorbills. I think you can safely alter the crop to move them more out of the center without risking anything. My personal inclination would be left edge and bottom and leave them against the water. If you went the other way, I would burn in the lower left a bit.

N-3, T-3, P-2, E-1 = 9 (P-2 Adjust crop to something a bit more visually dynamic.)

Review by Dennis H.
I like how you've captured the interaction between these 2 birds.
Lighting and background are good, unfortunately the birds' eyes are hard to see, which is a problem with some species.
N-3, T-2, P-3, E-0, Total-8

Review by Fran M.
That diagonal line formed by the foreground and the bird pair is very pleasing. I also appreciate the contrast between the pin sharp foreground against the softly blurred background. But best of all, I like that parent to chick relationship, and that they are interacting. The behaviour tells the story. Love your work.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-0, Total-9

Review by Maria K
Very nice clear image with good composition and light.
Focus is right and moment is best. Good background .
The blurred part of the stones on the bottom left is not too big to be a problem
Would be great to have catch light in both birds .
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-0, Total-9

Review by Bogdan B.
You have really got a perfect morning light. You have chosen proper exposure not to get white feathers overexposed. That is often at white birds. Of course it's hard to get details on the black feathers and to see eyes. If the birds are not very shy, I use flash to get catchlight in the eyes. It's the most important with black birds.
Your DOF is good to get the birds sharp and background blurred. You can make a tighter crop to cut more unsharp stone and some see on the top and right. Maibe you can get diagonal directly from the corner.
N-3, T-2, P-3, E-0, Total-8

Review by Bruce F.
The composition with the diagonal line of the cliff face, and the moment of touching beaks between the nesting pair are all strong elements and make a good nature story. The bokeh background patterns in the water are light and I would darken them and make them less noticeable, particular since they are only in a few spots. My biggest concern is with the black feathers on the faces. As you say, black and white are hard to expose correctly. Here there is no texture in the black face feathers. They look like water color paint without any detail and texture. The white is better but lacks detail in a few spots on the bottom bird mostly. I don’t think you can do much here to get back the feather detail. You might have to chalk this one as an almost capture and try again. That’s why I like diffused light; you never practically over extent the dynamic range of the camera’s sensor. 
N-3, T-2, P-2, E-0, Total-7


I was born in Prestwick, Scotland. I travelled to many parts of the world with my father who was in the Royal Air Force. Now living in Historic village of Fettercairn in Kincardineshire, Scotland with my wife Hilary and 'Smokey' the cat. Semi retired construction industry owner and business consultant. Grampian representative of the Royal Photographic Society and Vice President of Brechin Photographic Society. (Est 1888) Aviation photographer, turned Wildlife photographer.