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Photography Workshops by Christopher Dodds


Nature Photography Blog Journal Index

Canon Enables Manual Exposure in Video on EOS 5D Mark II 

This is HUGE news from Canon. I am going to predict that within 18 months, there will be no digital SLR still cameras available without HD video. Way to go Canon!

Media Alert
***EMBARGOED UNTIL 27th May 2009 03:00 CET***

Canon Enables Manual Exposure in Video on
EOS 5D Mark II

LONDON, UK, 27th May 2009: Canon announced today it will release a firmware
update for the EOS 5D Mark II allowing users to manually control exposure when
shooting video. The new firmware will be available for download from 2 June 2009 on
Canon Europe’s support web site.
Following the launch of the EOS 5D Mark II in September 2008, Canon’s Research and
Development team has listened closely to customer feedback to develop additions to
the camera’s movie recording functionality.

Allowing EOS 5D Mark II owners to achieve even more stunning video results with the
camera, the firmware update will include the following manual controls when shooting
• Full aperture selection
• ISO speed: Auto, 100 – 6400 and H1
• Shutter speed: 1/30th – 1/4000th second

The EOS 5D Mark II integrates full HD movie capability into a high-end 21.1 Megapixel
camera; opening a multitude of new possibilities for photo-journalists and news
photographers. Since its launch the camera has proved its appeal to professionals
working in diverse fields, from studio and wedding to nature and travel. Now,
following customer feedback, Canon has improved functionality for professional video
users, further unleashing the potential of the EOS 5D Mark II for cinematographers and
photographers alike.

- ENDS -


Indigo Buntings - Dauphin Island, AL

Indigo Bunting Vertical, Passerina Cyanea, Dauphin Island, AL

©Christopher Dodds

Canon EOS 1DMKIII, 500mm F4 Lens with 2X II Tele-converter

ISO 400, F8, 1/500s Aperture priority (evaluative +1/3), Canon 580EXII Flash ETTL II -2+2/3

I love photographing birds perched in the shade against a sunlit background using flash.

Indigo Bunting Horizontal, Passerina Cyanea, Dauphin Island, AL

©Christopher Dodds

Canon EOS 1DMKIII, 500mm F4 Lens with 2X II Tele-converter

ISO 400, F8, 1/80s Aperture priority (evaluative +2/3), Canon 580EXII Flash ETTL II -2+2/3

Male Indigo Buntings are actually black; it is the diffraction of light through their feathers that make them appear many shades from turquoise to black. Using the pattern of stars nearest the North Star to guide them, Indigo Buntings migrate at night. In captivity, they will become disoriented if they can’t see the night stars in April/May and September/October.

Thinking back to Daulphin Island, Alabama, the southern hospitality shown by everyone we met was beyond kind. We met Mike Rogers on our first day there and he kindly showed us around Dauphin Island’s birding hot-spots, then took us to his gorgeous ocean-side resort home and cooked us an amazing crawfish, shrimp and crab dinner. Mike also introduced us to Terry Hartley and together they introduced us to Chris and Michele Steber who let us takeover their bird feeders and setup perches for Indigo Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks and a few other great birds. Thank you Chris & Michele, Mike and Terry. After our first morning, Mike and Terry took us to the home of John & Jennie Stowers who were hosting a marvelous lunch for the Alabama Ornithological Society – what a great way to meet many wonderful birding folks!. I had my first (and definitely not my last) bowl of Gumbo, WOW!

I would like to say that photographing these birds at feeders was easy, but it did require quite a bit of patience. I wasn’t until our third session (and after an amazing smoked turkey beast dinner that Chris and Michele had made) that we were able to produce useable, full-frame images. Leaving the blankets that we had been using as a blind blowing in the wind overnight proved to be the key to acclimatizing the birds to our close proximity. I love the effect of flash on a bird in the shade, against a sunlit background. In fact, while photographing migrant warblers, I’ll take the birds in the shade over harsh, or dappled, sunlight any day.


Rondeau Provincial Park Feeder Set-ups

Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Rondeau Provincial Park, Morpeth, Ontario Canada ©Christopher Dodds Canon EOS 1DsMKIII, 500mm F4 Lens with 2X II Tele-converter ISO 400, F8, 1/800s Aperture priority (evaluative +1), Canon 580EXII Flash ETTL II -2+2/3

A member of the Picidae family, the Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus, is a medium-sized woodpecker that breeds in sothern Canada and the northeastern United States of America. The adult males have a red cap that extends from the bill to the nape; females have a red patch on the nape and another above the bill.

While leading my recent Point Pelee Workshop, we made several hour-long journeys to Rondeau Provincial Park in Morpeth, Ontario. There are trailer campsites at Rondeau where many campers park RVs for weeks at a time. The campers have had bird feeders up for years, so the migrating birds are easy to “bait” to new feeder set-ups for photography. I had placed this perch on top of a picnic table (with carefully placed, out of sight peanut butter on it’s rear) with the hopes of attracting Red-Headed Woodpeckers. The Red-Headed Woodpeckers never showed, so this was a nice back-up subject. It does help to have good relations with the campers, I asked many to remove their feeders so the birds had fewer options.

Most who know me have noticed that I’ve been using Aperture Priority lately. I’m a huge advocate of Manual Mode while photographing in constant light. Knowing when and where to use the different tools available to us as photographers is crucial to making consistently well-exposed images. I was plagued with changing light levels and photographing from a set-up with a constant background – there was no better choice than aperture priority.


Point Pelee Workshop Report

Northern Parula, Point Pelee National Park, Leamington, ON

©Christopher Dodds

Canon EOS 1DMKIII, 500mm F4 Lens with 2X II Tele-converter

ISO 400, F8, 1/640s Aperture priority (evaluative +2/3), Flash ETTL II -2+2/3

One of the smallest warblers, the Northern Parula was originally named the blue Yellow-Backed Warbler, it is one of only a few birds that nests in Spanish Moss.

Photographing migrant warblers is often quite challenging; warblers are among the smallest, fastest and difficult birds to photograph. A sharp whistle, squeak, or noise sometimes gets them to sit still long enough to focus and capture an image.

On Thursday, May 7, I met the wonderful folks who signed-up for my Point Pelee workshop: Nicolaas Honig & Tuma Young from Halifax, NS; Gill Arden & Bob Zarnke from Waterloo, ON (many workshop veterans); Mike Milicia from Bedford, MA (who was out for Owls with me this past winter); Michael Lyncheski from Gladstone, NJ; Greg Hritzo & his non-photographer spouse Young Rang An; and Arthur Morris (who graciously co-lead my workshop – THANK YOU, ARTIE!). One of the greatest parts of this job are the people I get to meet and spend time with – a wonderful group!

Point Pelee can be an amazing place for photography during spring migration when the conditions are good, and a really challenging place when conditions are not good for migration. Our first few days were quite a challenge, so we moved over to Rondeau Provincial Park to work on feeder set-ups (more in a later post). Things had picked-up at Pelee by Monday, with good opportunities to photograph a few species of warbler that morning. We agreed he best strategy was to stay in the park all day. After lunch at the Visitor Centre, we headed for the Point and saw good numbers of warblers that included Northern Parula, so We decided to miss the last tram, knowing we would be walking all the way back to our cars. What a great end to the workshop. That’s the thing with Point Pelee, when it’s slow you vow never to return, then you have a great day, and you will have to return year, after year. The workshop was scheduled around the May 9-11 window, that’s when you are most likely to experience a “wave day”.

The total number of bird species recorded at Point Pelee is 372, of which at least 340 of these species have been recorded during the spring migration period. The stream of birds in the spring is not a steady flow from the south. The birds usually arrive in intermittent waves, a pattern unique to eastern North America. In some years these are well marked but, in others the fluctuations in numbers and variety is so meagre that a wave in difficult to detect. A "wave" occurs as a result of a warm weather front advancing from the south or southeast meeting a cold weather front from the north or northwest. Two situations will cause the birds to descend. One is when the two fronts meet at ground level. The other is when a warm front in which migrating birds are flying overrides a cold front. The rising warm air becomes cooler with the increasing altitude until it is finally too cold for the birds and they descend.

If these nocturnal (night-time) migrants find themselves over Lake Erie near sunrise they must continue onwards or drown. After flying perhaps hundreds of kilometres in one night, it is this extra 30 to 40 kilometres across the lake that really demands their last strength. This explains why exhausted birds are sometimes found at the tip of the Point. A similar situation, but on a larger scale, occurs when migrants cross the 800 to 1000 kilometres of the Gulf of Mexico. If the weather is good they continue inland in one continuous flight without stopping, but with a north wind and rain they descend on the coast in great numbers, often in an exhausted state.

What everyone hopes for in the spring is a major wave with a "grounding" of migrants. An incredible grounding of migrants occurred on May 9 to 12, 1952.

Estimates of some of the birds present included 1 000 black-and-white warblers and 20 000 white-throated sparrows. Another occurred on when 3 000 northern orioles were engaged in visible reverse migration off the Tip, while the day's tally for chimney swifts was 900. On May 15, 1978, in just the Tip area of the park, there were 80 yellow-billed cuckoos, 70 eastern wood-pewees, 250 scarlet tanagers and much more.

Other "big days" for certain species are tundra swan (2500), red-breasted merganser (100 000), whimbrel (500), northern flicker (250), bank swallow (12 000), white-eyed vireo (50), hooded warbler (18) and kentucky warbler (13).


More images to follow in future posts...


Olive Sparrow

Olive Sparrow, Ramirez Family Ranch, Roma, Texas

©Christopher Dodds

Canon EOS 1DsMKIII, 500mm F4 Lens with 1.4X II Tele-converter

ISO 400, F6.3, 1/320s Aperture priority (evaluative +2/3), Flash ETTL II -2+2/3

Like Gulls, Sparrows are often overlooked by “bird” photographers, so I was pretty excited to photograph this secretive Olive Sparrow that only resides in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and Mexico. Also known as “Green Finch” and “Texas Sparrow”, it is the only sparrow with an olive back (as seen in the image). Truth be told, this is just one of those species that I was thrilled to see - the images were a huge extra! Thanks again, Roel!
I left home at 02:00 this morning and arrived at the Howard Johnson Hotel in Leamington, Ontario without incident. After a quick supper, I’ll be meeting the workshop participants and giving a brief slideshow. Artie made his huge trek safely, and we are both anxious to get out and photograph some Warblers in the morning. The weather forecast looks like a fallout might actually happen on Saturday, May 9; how I hope the weatherman is right for once. Time permitting, I’ll post some Warbler images during the next day, or two.


Long-Billed Thrasher and KUDOS

Long-Billed Thrasher, Ramirez Family Ranch, Roma, Texas

©Christopher Dodds

Canon EOS 1DsMKIII, 500mm F4 Lens with 1.4X II Tele-converter

ISO 400, F6.3, 1/200s Aperture priority (evaluative +1/3), Flash ETTL II -2+2/3


Before leaving for Florida, Alabama and Texas, I gave a slide presentation to Bird Protection Quebec. Here's a note I received:

April, 2009

To whom it may concern

At our April monthly meeting we invited Christopher Dodds to gave a presentation on bird photography. There were about 60 people in attendance including numerous of our membership interested in bird photography.

It was evident very quickly that Chris has a complete command of his profession. He is clearly a gifted photographer, with an artistic eye, and considerable knowledge and interest in birds. He used his superb photography, detailed discussion of his photographic technques in obtaining his shots, and his engaging presentation style to gain the attention of all the audience, photographer and non-photographer alike. The crowd that gathered around him to ask questions after his presentation is testament as to how well it was received. I even had two people email me after about how much they liked his presentation, which is an unusual occurance.

I heartily recommend Chris to other organizations looking for a speaker on photography or nature photography.

Jeff Harrison (Vice-President, Bird Protection Quebec)

Thanks for your kind words, Jeff.

On the road again:

Ah, the glamourous life! I'll be hitting the road at two am tomorrow morning to make the twelve hour drive to Point Pelee National Park in Leamington, Ontario. I hope to get there with a few hours to photograph, before my workshop starts with a slideshow at 7PM. I'm not sure how much time I'll have to make posts here, but I'll pop in whenever I have something to share.


He's a note I received from Gill Arden (and Bob Zarnke) after my Eagles of Homer Workshop back in March (I look forward to seeing Gill and Bob tomorrow, as they are attending my Point Pelee workshop):


We have just returned from out third trip with Chris, it will not be the last. We enjoy being part of a small group and as there were four of us including Chris, and we got the attention and help we didn’t think we needed!

After months of anticipation, being delayed by a snow storm in Minneapolis, and the drive from Anchorage I was in a state of excessive excitement as we waited for the feeding of the eagles. Suddenly there were so many flurries of birds, swooping, diving and retreating every which way, that I became overwhelmed. Chris appeared alongside me, calmed me down, reminded me that we were there for 5 more days and suggested I just stand, watch and enjoy. Then return to my camera, not chase everything that moved but to pick a zone and wait for action. Still bewildered I followed his instruction and to my amazement took many keepers.

Although Chris was only one of many photographers he carried on Jean’s legacy of respect for the birds and local people. He quietly suggested alternative parking spots to those who happened on private property, he organized helpers to unload fish and he called in help for an injured otter stranded on the beach.

He had suggestions for our down time and took us on several drives to enjoy the locale, he took us to excellent eating places and suggested great things to buy. Oh yes, he enabled us to raise our photography standards to yet another level. He’s answered many questions since we returned and is always ready to help. We look forward to our next trip with him.

If you want personal attention or just a guide who knows where and when to go, what to look for and the best way to photograph it then Chris is your man!


Shakin' off the Texas heat ...

Green Jay, Ramirez Family Ranch, Roma, Texas

©Christopher Dodds

Canon EOS 1DsMKIII, 500mm F4 Lens with 1.4X II Tele-converter

ISO 400, F6.3, 1/1250s Aperture priority @ +1/3, Flash with Better Beamer ETTL II -2+2/3

The Texas heat measured 95 degrees Fahrenheit or more during the day. I’m sure it got much warmer than that in the dark photo blinds (where we seemed to spend far too much time), as it seemed like sitting in an oven. All of our set-ups around the blinds included water, a vital ingredient in the desert. I love watching, and studying, my subjects while photographing them, so it was fun to see the Green Jays shaking-off the heat and enjoying the cool water. While doing their courtship display, Green Jays bob up, and down, while making a really cool cartoon-ish like spaceship sound.

I am in the mist of trying to prepare for my Point Pelee workshop, and putting together some fresh marketing material for my Bonaventure Island Gannets Galore workshops in June. I hope to make another post tomorrow, before I make the twelve hour drive to Pelee on Thursday morning.


Golden-Fronted Woodpecker & a prayer

Golden-Fronted Woodpecker, Cozad Ranch, Linn, Texas

©Christopher Dodds

Canon EOS 1DsMKIII, 500mm F4 Lens with 2X II Tele-converter

ISO 250, F8, 1/800s Aperture priority at +1/3, Flash ETTL II -2+2/3

The Golden-Fronted Woodpecker (Melanerpes aurifrons) consumes about as much fruit and nuts as it does insects. During the summer in Texas, the faces of some woodpeckers become stained purple from eating the fruit of the prickly pear cactus.

TIP: You have probably noticed that most of the images that I’ve posted from the trip so far are vertical. I try to shoot verticals as often as possible, it’s sometimes rather difficult to make a cover with a horizontal image ☺

Please say a prayer for 15 month old little-man, Ronan, who is fighting for life and breath, and for his parents, Heather & Mike. Be strong and get well, little buddy!



Green Jay

Green Jay, Ramirez Family Ranch, Roma, Texas


Canon EOS 1DMKIII, 500mm F4 Lens with 1.4X II Tele-converter

ISO 800, F6.3, 1/1600s Aperture priority @ 0, Flash ETTL II -2+2/3

Green Jays have been observed using sticks as tools to extract insects from tree bark. A group of Jays has many collective nouns, including a “band”, “cast”, party”, and “scold” of Jays.
There was no shortage of these gorgeous, stunning Green Jays while at the Ramirez Family Ranch in the Rio Grande Valley near Roma, Texas. Artie kept calling the place “Green Jay Heaven”. As photographers, we often dream of golden light each morning and afternoon. While in Roma, we were blessed with cloudy, bright conditions each day; much like a huge soft-box in the sky. This allowed us to photograph well past when the light would turn harsh on a golden morning day, allowing us to maximize our time with the broad variety of birds there.


Painted Bunting - Home safe

Painted Bunting, Cozad Ranch, Linn, Texas

©Christopher Dodds

Canon EOS 1DsMKIII, 500mm F4 Lens with 2X II Tele-converter

ISO 400, F9, 1/100s Aperture priority at 0, Flash ETTL II -2+2/3

One of the most brilliantly colored birds in the United States, the Painted Bunting is the only bird in the U.S. to have a blue head and red under parts. A group of Painted Buntings are collectively known as a "mural" and a "palette" of buntings.

After Artie dropped me off at the airport at 04:00 yesterday morning (thanks again, Artie), I slowly made my way from McAllen, Texas to Montreal, Quebec via Houston and Cleveland. The first two flights were un-eventful and the only noticeable difference flying with the threat of swine flu was the amount of refreshing fresh air in the cabin. I’m a seasoned flyer, and constantly complain of feeling deprived of oxygen on commercial flights since the price of fuel sky-rocked way back (airlines save a fortune by reducing the amount of fresh air intake).
Like most nature photographers who travel, I have a large carry-on (a Think-Tank Airport Security roller), and it’s usually fully packed with cameras and long lenses. I was un-able to talk my way on board with the bag, until I noticed the Scottish accent and enamel pin on the lapel of the lady at the check-in counter. It was two flags, an American, and a Scottish one, and they were crossed at the middle of the flagpole. I commented that I had a similar badge, but it was the Union Jack crossed with the Canadian Maple Leaf. She immediately proceeded to assign me the last three available seats on the regional jet, and asked me to pre-board, remove and stow my camera gear in an overhead bin (with blankets and pillows), and then gate check my empty bag. Thanks-you to the nameless Continental Airline lady with the crossed flag lapel pin.