Study Group 2

Bruce Finocchio

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Title:  Little Bee Eater Toss Moth In Air Before Swallowing

Goal:  We were in Tanrangire National Park, the fourth day of our three week safari. We had drove most of this particular morning and were at the edge of the large Lormakau Swamp. My friend John who organized the trip is a bird photographer like me. As a result, we weren’t just after the big five. In fact, John knew our driver and had especially requested him, because they had built up a good relationship over John’s previous trips to East Africa. Both the guide/driver and John loved birds and shared that love with each other. On the most difficult sightings when they would disagree about the identification, I would keep a mental score card of who was right and periodically announce who was ahead. They were very competitive in a friendly way. John’s wife and I were keeping a bird species list as we went from National Park to National Park. During this particular moment, we were photographing a big bull elephant feeding on the edge of the swamp. On the hillside above the swamp where we were parked, there were several large bushes with open branches on top. Since we had been stationary for quite a while. The little bee-eaters resumed their hunting and sallying from these bushes. They came down the slope sparsely dotted with acacia trees. Important was staying put, this allowed the bee-eaters to become accustom to our presence. Because they were so close, both John and I were watching this particular bee-eater with our cameras trained on it. When it sallied out it would usually come back to the same perch; we didn’t attempt to track our cameras out trying to get an image of it flying. Our focus remain on the perch, when it came back with the moth, we were ready when it tossed the moth into the air, before eating. John and I got the shot. A fortune shot, yes, but those who are prepared and observant do get the prize. 

Equipment / Source:   Canon D7, 600 mm IS f4.0 lens, with a 1.4x Canon III teleconverter, 840 mm at 1/3200 of a sec, f6.3, ISO 1250, Pattern Metering, no flash. 

Technique:    600 mm lens mounted on a bean bag from the top of A Safari Type Landover vehicle.  

Processing:  Some darkening of the background and slight reduction of overall contrast with Nik Viveza. Raw conversion with Photoshop ARC, some cropping.  

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Title: Lioness With Blood On Her Muzzle From A Fresh Wildebeest Kill
Goal:  At all predator and lion kills I try to capture the best action. This image was from our second day at Ndutu. This morning on the hills above one end of marsh area we found three kills. The hyenas, jackals, vultures, and maribou stocks were on one wildebeest carcass. A few other lions were on a zebra carcass, and two lions were feeding on this just killed wildebeest carcass. Early in the morning, perhaps as dawn broke it seemed that the lions made three kills so they left one for the hyenas and vultures to fight over. Thus, having a relatively peaceful meal at the other kills. I learn that the lions lap up the blood first and they satiate themselves until their bellies become completely full. From a recent nature program, I also learn that lions have a very quick digestive system and process all that meat pretty quickly.   

Equipment / Source:   Canon 7D body with a 600mm f4.0 IS lens, at 1/640 sec, f16, at ISO 640, exposure, Aperture priority, Pattern or Evaluative Metering. Rear button focus. 

Technique:  600 mm lens mounted on a bean bag from the top of A Safari Type Landover vehicle

Processing:   I chose a 4x3 format to cropped out most of the Lioness on the left. I didn’t extra saturate the red color than what the raw file gave me. Used Define 2 luminosity mask to reduce noise in the green background. Also, used Nik software’s Raw Sharpening on the lioness and the wildebeest carcass.   

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

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

Review by Andy H.
Another successful action image Bruce. People don't realise how difficult it can be to capture such an image as although an everyday event finding the right angle and clear shot is not always easy. Her eyes are almost 'drugged' with the enjoyment of the meal.
My only wish is that there was some separation between the lioness and other lion, top LHS. Other than that, spot on.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-0, Total-9
Review by bogdan B.
Photo is sharp and good exposed. The part of Lioness is distractive anyway.
N-3, T-3, P-2, E-0, Total-8
Review by Maria K.
This is strong story and good image technically but not very pleasant to look at –at least for me.
The shot is a bit tight and cropping a bit distract. I was wondering if burning around the edges would help and maybe a bit more space above the head.
N-3, T-3, P-2, E-0, Total-8
Review by Dennis H.
Nice capture of lion feeding on a kill.
Good colour and detail on lion, eyes clear with catchlights.
Pity about distracting element in top left hand corner of image. 
N-3, T-2, P-3, E-0, Total-8
Review by commentator Dan C.

This is an excellent image but you do tend to get carried away with your essay like titles.  You reached a new high here with 61 characters.  The tight cropping has let you emphasize the story but does make it harder to identify the prey.  That would have given you the extra point for exceptional. The blood running between her mouth and the carcass strengthens the story.  Sharpness and depth of field is good. The squint of her eyes and position of her ears does indicate she is upset, probably with you for intruding on her meal.

If you do use this in an Exhibition, please shorten the title.  Most exhibitions have a length limit ranging from 25 to 35 characters.  Their on-line entry system will truncate any excess characters or outright reject the entry.  It would be a shame to see such an excellent image rejected on a title length technicality.

N3, T3, P3, E0, Total 9

Response to critique from Bruce:
I have reposted the original “Lioness With Blood On Her Muzzle From A Fresh Wildebeest Kill” image. In hindsight, I probably should not have cropped the image to the 4 x 5 proportions, and stay with the original 2 x3 composition.
With this original capture, you can see more of the story, and no way is the Lioness reacting to me. She is giving a warning to one of the other females in the pride. As you know, Lions cooperate during the hunt, but at feedings, it’s each lion for themselves. Plus, I shot this image with a 600 mm lens, from quite a distance, a distance where the lionesses are oblivious to the safari Landover. Plus, lions in and around Ndutu are acclimatized to safari vehicles. They walk right by the vehicles, even use the vehicle as shade during hot days. The presence of us had nothing to do with the behavior of this lioness.
Also, you can see that the carcass and the hide are from a wildebeest, and not from any other herbivore. Not a cape buffalo, not from any of the antelope species, definitely not from a zebra. I added wildebeest to the title deliberately for those who have less experience and knowledge of Africa and the prey species lions feed on.
Regarding long titles, I don’t compete in any PSA competitions, either locally or internationally. With the one exception of the PSA Chapter Showcase completions. Yes, the title is on the long side. Yet, I don’t add anything that isn’t visually discernable within the image. The title is really for my camera club nature competitions. If I were going to submit to a PSA competition, of course, I would follow the rules and limits on the length of titles.
The study group is for learning from critiques of others, and I have got your message regarding titles. Since I am not entering images in PSA competitions it is a moot point. Because of your great experience and expertise, I would rather get more information about the image so I can continue to improve and overall become a better nature photographer.
Best regards, Bruce

Review by commentator Rick C.

A couple of side observations. The first has to do with the super-telephotos. Your 600 F4 is actually optimized to be shot at F4 or F5.6. Diffraction issues start to creep in at F8 and are generally significant by F11. By shooting at F16 you gain a minimal amount of depth of field at a significant price in terms of critical sharpness. My recommendation would be to take the shot at an aperture shy of F8 unless you have to prioritize apparent DOF over sharpness.  Relative to technique, the 600 DOF will be about 50 -50 in front – behind the actual point of focus. I suspect that, like most good nature photographers, you tried for the eyes as the critical point of focus. That means that half of your actual DOF is going back into the ears and neck when the remaining 50% coming forward from the eyes may not be sufficient to carry all the way to the front of the nose. You don’t have time for fast shooting, but when time permits my recommendation is to focus just in front of the base of the nose allowing the DOF to cover the eyes. This way you pick up a little more of the muzzle. Keep in mind that at 30 Feet the DOF on a 600 at F 8 is about 3 ½ inches when using a 7D so you aren’t going to cover the full muzzle even at F16 (about 5 inches DOF). I’m not crazy about Nik Sharpener Pro’s raw sharpening. Try the trial download of Topaz Labs’ In Focus. For dealing with diffraction diffusion I set it to Unknown Estimate with a blur radius of 1 and then let the program estimate the amount of sharpening needed. It does a pretty good job most of the time. I ran it on your image and have attached the result. It can be hard to discern, but I believe there is a small incremental improvement.

I also noticed that your image was saved in ProPhoto. You are gambling with potential color problems for web based viewing like we do here if you don’t convert down to sRGB.

Review by Les L. (Feb 1)
This is a Wow image. Wish I would have had this opportunity last time on safari. Technically I feel the image is excellent; focus, color, lightening. I think that the arrangement could be improved by opening the photo to give the viewer a broader perspective of the action.The image has strong feeling and energy. 
N-3, T-2, P-3, E-1, Total-9

Response to Rick's critique:
Hi Rick,
I read your side comments with interest. I also went to the Internet and looked up diffraction issues with telephoto lenses. In addition, I tried to find articles about my specific lens and diffraction problems. I found that there are not any critical comments about diffraction at smaller f-stops for this lens. Maybe, you can help me out here.
One article for my lens I did find does state that at f8 the lens is sharper than at wide open and that f11 is even better. Maybe, this is just the generalization that most lenses have f11 as a sweet spot. Of course adding a teleconverter like a Canon 1.4 x teleconverter does reduce sharpness, and a Canon 2.0x converter will reduce sharpness even further. The newer III versions are the best available and provide better sharpness than previous versions. I do have a 1.4x III teleconverter that I use, all the time. I rarely use my 2.0x II converter because of the loss of sharpness. I haven’t got around to purchasing the newer 2.0x III converter yet.
Here is the article: (
Also, I use a 7D and 7D Mark II camera bodies, which have 1.6x cropped sensors. These sensors mostly use the center area of the lens, not the edges where sharpness problems can be magnified.

I have a couple of points to make. First of all, I clearly want you to know that my lens is a Canon 600 mm f4.0 IS lens, it’s not a third party telephoto lens or one of those cheaper fixed or zoom lens that can be purchased for a few thousand dollars. This lens cost me over $8,600.00 dollars in 2001. It also represented the best lens technology available in 1999, when Canon first began selling this lens. There are special coating on these lenses and fluoride elements designed to reduce diffraction, distortion, and lens flare. This is an incredible sharp lens. I agree that the newer Canon 600 mm f4.0 IS II version is lighter and even has improved image quality and sharpness over my lens.
As an aside, Butch Spielman and I had separate discussions about his bird images where he was having sharpness issues and ugly botching patterns when magnifying his images to 100% + viewing. He was using a 7D Mark II camera body like me. We traded a few images back and forth. I even sent him a bear image I taken at ISO 5000 on a 7D camera body, which was cleaner and after processing had less noise problems than the ones he was taking with hiw 7D Mark II body. We couldn’t find out why his camera was producing these soft botching patterns.
I suggested that it was his lens that might be causing the botching and sharpness problems with his images, not the camera body. He was photography with a combination fixed 400 mm f4.0 DO II IS lens with a 1.4x III teleconverter when he removed the teleconverter his image quality greatly improve. His issue my lie with the teleconverter.
I mention this because I think this is where you can see the diffractions issues with smaller than wide open f-stops that you mentioned in your comments. Overall, this occurs more readily for relatively inexpensive and third party fixed and zoom telephoto lenses that don’t produce tact sharp images as compared to my Canon 600 mm IS f4.0 lens. Overall, they are less sharp, especially comparing my lens with older generations of these lenses.
With your post-processing of my image with Topaz In Focus software, I also think that you proved my point that shooting with smaller apertures like f16 or f11 (less than wide open) isn’t a major issue with my lens. For I agree with you and grant that your sharpened version of my lioness image is slightly sharper than my version, especially on the chin and muzzle of the lioness. If you can sharpen my f16 aperture image in post-production to some general level of acceptable sharpness, then, the lens diffraction issue is really a non-issue. For me that 2 ½ inches of extra sharpness is way more important than any diffraction issues cause by my lens.
Using hyper focal distance to achieve sharpness where you want to have it is a good technique. I agree with your analysis of focusing on the muzzle or the nose sometimes, rather than the eyes. You must have the eyes sharp, and as much as you can of the rest of the face. I have a gray fox image lapping up water with his tongue, mostly a face and head shot, with the eyes looking out at me in my blind. Gray foxes have long muzzles, so the black tip of the nose is a bit soft, where the eyes, face, and ears are super sharp. I didn’t have an enough depth of field to cover the nose tip. Luckily it is black and with the structure slider in Nik, and using darkening, and contrast techniques, I can get the nose sharp enough that the softness is not too noticeable.
In another example, I have a beautiful side profile of bluebird image from many years ago, it’s actually a slide image, where I got the wing tack sharp, but the head and eye farther back are soft. My lens focused on the wing and there wasn’t enough depth of field at a wide open aperture to get the eye and head sharp. Such images show how swallow the depth of field is with the 600 mm f4 IS lens, it’s in inches and fraction of inches as you clearly state.
My friend and workshop leader usually recommends f7.1 aperture as a starting point with these large telephoto lenses. Using wide open apertures in the past, like f4.0 and f5.6, I have captured many images where the whole bird and especially the tail isn’t sharp. Even though the bird eyes and head are sharp. Thus, generally, under the right lighting conditions, I like to use f8 rather than f5.6 or f4.0. And, like in this lioness image, I purposely went to f16, because I knew there was not enough depth of field to cover the lioness entire face and ears. I could have used a smaller lens that would get me more depth of field or I could have had the driver move the vehicle back, both of these techniques would have given me more depth of field than changing the aperture.
Yet, what I like is the impact of the face of the lioness up close and personal where her “leave me alone, this is mine attitude”, is so dramatically visible. Using a smaller and wider lens without cropping I would have lost some of this impact and storytelling feature.
Based on your sharpening on my image, I went and bought Topaz’s In Focus software. I played around with it a little bit. With Nik Pre Raw sharpening and Define 2 noise reduction I can use masks to put the sharpening and noise reduction where I want to. I hardly ever apply luminance noise reduction on the subject; I apply it selectively only to backgrounds with control points. For sharpness, I only applied it on the subject never on the backgrounds. With their control point technology, it’s easy and fast.
>From what I saw of In Focus, you would have to create masks in Photoshop to apply sharpening or noise reduction in a target area. This involves selections and painting and/or luminosity masking and edge refinement. I think some of Topaz technology like the features you used are better and newer, but for me, I like the ease of use of control points. At some point soon or even maybe now, Nik tools are going to be obsolete since Google is giving them away free now and no longer supporting them. Maybe, it’s time to move to another sharpening tool or software. Hence, the purchase of Topaz Lab’s In Focus software.
Yes, I am also aware of the pro photo color space not being support by the web. I enter the NANPA expressions contest each year. They require s-rgb color space since everything is digitally viewed. Some of my pro photo color spaced images do shift color. I have to go back and convert them to s-rgb in order not to have this occur. I like the Pro Photo color space for my master files, for obvious reasons. I took 70,000 plus images in East Africa. With all the processing time, I guess I am a little lazy in not changing the color space for my web bound jpegs.
Best regards,

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