Study Group 2

Bruce Finocchio

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Title:   California Gull Shakes Feather Off While Bathing

Goal:  I belong to three Bay Area birding lists or groups, East and South Bay, as well as Peninsula Birders Group. I receive email postings by members as to rare and unusual sightings. Birders also just publish their adventures and sightings to share with other birders. Its focus is birding, but many bird photographers use these postings to find and photograph rare and uncommon species. I am no exception! However, there is a big difference between birders and bird photographers. One obvious difference is that birders take pictures mostly for identification, whereas bird photographers are trying to create art. Another one is photographers need to get close, very close to make compelling beautiful imagery. I could go on with the differences, as I have in a previous blog post.

The point is that I was following a lead to find and photograph phalaropes in Sunnyvale, in the South Bay. When I saw the poor digiscope camera image from a birder; I knew that I was chasing a “wild goose”. Yet, because of his effort to tell me where the phalaropes where, I went anyway. I tried hard by putting my big 600 mm lens and tripod on my Rolle cart, and got about a mile out, but the phalaropes were way out there another couple of miles. Too much for me. I decided to head north on the west side of the bay instead. I ended up at Atascadero in Palo Alto, here not that far from my car I found a shallow pond that must have been fed by some underground water source. It was July, not April and most or practically all non-tidal water had disappeared. I noticed a large collection of gulls in this pond, and I notice the center area seemed to be a little deeper and flowing or upwelling with water. The gulls were taking advantage of this relatively fresh upwelling and flowing water by bathing.

Even though it was still hard to get close to them because the water was surround by a dry pan and the levy I was on was still farther away than I liked. Nevertheless, I had the reach with my 600 mm lens and a 1.4x tele converter and a cropped sensor with my 7D Mark II camera body.

The light was working for me; the sun was setting in the west behind me. Prefect conditions for creating painterly nature images. I kept waiting for them to bath and then jump up in the air which is their typical behavior, not all the time, but most of the time. I also took a few flying in and out images as well. Trying to take advantage of the beautiful photography conditions in any way I could.

You are waiting for the moral of the story or the point. Well, I could have given up twice: once by not going at all, second throwing in the towel after my researched location was a bust, but I didn’t give up and persisted in my efforts. As a result, I think I was richly rewarded. Nature is full of surprises, and it never disappoints if you’re opened to its secrets and its mystery!

Equipment / Source:   600 mm IS f4.0 lens, 1.4x tele converter, 7D Mark II camera body, on a gitzo 3025 tripod. Shot Information: 1/6400 sec; f7.1 aperture; ISO 1000, Aperture Priority Shooting Mode, and Evaluative Metering, No Flash.

Technique: The light was so good I didn’t do much to the raw capture file. Some slight cropping, targeted noise reduction and sharpening. Also, I did a mid-tone contrast enhancement technique using the rgb channels layer.  

Processing: There is one point or criticism of the image that I know of, but it couldn’t be helped. I am interested in seeing if anyone mentions it. 

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Title:  Dromedary camels engage in head sparring
Goal:   To capture behavior and action, in other words, capture a decisive moment. I lead a field trip to the Oakland Zoo on June 11th. This image is not in the wild. I believe that zoo images are OK for nature competitions according to the PSA definitions.

The Oakland zoo is very hilly, with lots of up and downs. After lunch and a ride in their new gondola, my group was very tired and called it a day. I told them I was going to stay around for a bit and I hoped to catch a second wind. At the beginning of the month, I had a kidney stone erupt, and I had to go to the hospital and have an operation to blast it apart. I mention this because I too was very tired.

Yet I hung in there, and went to the camel enclosure and stood up on the bench to photograph them. I noticed that the light haired camel was chasing the beige one around and engaging in some mock fighting or dominance ritual.

It was very hard to handhold my 400mm f4.0 DO IS lens for long periods of time. However, I was patient and was fortunate to catch this decisive moment, as the light haired camel try to bite the beige one. Patience too because I stuck with it, I didn’t leave early like my students. I was rewarded with this image. 

Equipment / Source:   Canon 7D Mark II body, 400mm f4.0 IS DO Lens, 1/3200 sec f6.3, ISO 2000, Aperture Priority, Pattern metering. 

Technique:  Handheld and standing on the bench in order to see over the fence enclosure.

Processing:  Lighten the beige camel’s eyes with Viveza, noise reduction with Define on the background only. Raw sharpening on the camels only. I did also reduce the white jaw area of the lighter camel, and some structure to this area as well. Slight content aware crop to extend the canvas border on the left side to make the camels a little smaller in the frame.   

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

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Review by commentator Dan C.

This is fun story telling image.  From the standpoint of nature story it is clear to see they are sparring so you have successfully captured the important play between animals.

From a pictorial standpoint, the elements are well arranged and you have a nicely handled background.

You are correct that zoo shots are allowed in nature that is not restricted to wildlife.  Unfortunately it is the subject that is the problem here, not the location.  The PSA Nature definition does exclude feral animals.  The dromedary camel falls in this category.  There are no naturally wild populations for the dromedary camel.  All are either fully domesticated or feral populations that have escaped or been released to fend for themselves.  This is true of most camelids, whether new world or old world.  Currently the only legitimate camelids for use in nature are the Bactrian Camel, the Vicuna, and the Guanaco.

N0, T3, P3, E0, Total 6

Review by Fran M.
Your persistence in the face of adversity certainly paid off. Good story told in the image of competitive male behaviour. Good close crop; nicely exposed; good depth of field. Love your work.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-0, Total-9

Review by Andy H.
Great shot. How often do we stop and call it a day when there is another shot to be had. Recently read a book 'The track of the Wild Otter' by Hugh Miles which sums this up. I often say we need patients but he uses a another word - persistence which I think is more correct. Persistence does bring its reward.
The image is excellent and I have nothing to add that would improve it.
The addition of a crop on the LHS raises the question of, is this permissible. Perhaps Dan could answer this.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-1, Total-10

Dan responds to the above comment: Just reread the processing for the camels.  If space was indeed added on the left hand side, that is not allowed.  

I guess the word crop blinded me because I think of cropping as removing areas, not extending areas.  
I usually consider the use of content aware cloning for extending areas and that would have raised a negative flag.

Review by Dennis H.
Well captured image of sparing camels. Nice colour and detail on camels. Image sharp with lovely background. Well done.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-0, Total-9

Review by Bogdan B.
You have caught an interesting behavior. It's fine blured background. The crop seems a little bit tight to me. I would prefere more space on left and top side.
The eye of left animal is sharp, but the right one not so. You shoud use a smaller aperture to get more DOF. I think with such lens the photo with 1/2000s should be far enough sharp.
The white skin on the neck of right animal seems a little overexposed to me.
N-3, T-2, P-2, E-0, Total-7


I am a wildlife, nature, and scenic photographer. I now live in San Mateo, after spending most of my adult life in Millbrae. I previously worked full-time for Applied Biosystems and Life Technologies as a senior business analyst. I left this position a few years ago to concentrate on my true passion of nature photography. My Dad was a deer hunter and bought some property in Monterey County, so he could have a place of his own to go deer hunting. We have owned this property since 1946. I grew up spending my summers down there, following in my father's footsteps, hunting quail, dove, and black tailed deer--using a b-b gun, graduating up to a powerful hunting rifle. When I was eighteen I had to kill a black-tailed buck up close shooting him in the neck, since my first shot from afar had only wounded him. I saw death up close and personal, deciding from that moment on I didn't not want to be part of death, but to cherish life instead.

My friends and I do a lot of bird photography at my ranch in rural Monterey County, using photo blinds extensively; and recently we have built a few permanent ponds to attract wildlife.

I was a Minolta user, but switched to Canon in 2001. I used to shoot extensively with slide film; now I strictly use digital camera bodies, specifically the Canon 7D and 40D bodies, previously the Canon D1 Mark II and as backup the Canon 20D. I primarily use RAW capture, and process the images in Photoshop. I recently upgraded to CS5, and also have many external hard drives to store my raw files.

Check out Bruce's nature blog at and his website at