Traveling with a 600mm Prime lens and a LOT of camera gear!

Up until now, most of my projects have involved me taking road-trips in my Subaru Outback to travel. But ever since I started doing wildlife photography for a living; I have been on the look out for interesting wildlife and conservation related projects to work on, all over the world. I realized that my regular way of traveling with my gear will need an upgrade. During road-trips, I just carry my camera and lenses in multiple bags, and throw them in the back seat of my Subaru. I would just keep the tripod, pack my clothes in a suitcase and leave them in the trunk of my vehicle. But now that I had to fly from Seattle to California, to do some photography at Point Reyes National Seashore, I realized that I will need to re-visit my plans. As I was thinking of a blog post idea for this week, I thought that it would be nice to share my air travel experience with the largest set of gear I have ever carried with me. After successfully traveling by air and on the road with this set up, I have been very pleased with how it worked for me. So here goes!

Problem : The gear :(

Here is a list of equipment that I need to carry with me

  1. Nikon D850 body

  2. Nikon 600mm FLED VR2 Lens

  3. Nikon 24-70mm f 2.8 ED VR Lens

  4. Sigma 150-600 Contemporary Lens

  5. Induro CLT404L Stealth Carbon Fiber Series 4 74.6" Long Tripod

  6. Movo Photo Carbon Fiber Professional Gimbal Tripod Head

  7. DJI Mavic 2 Pro & accessories

  8. DJI Smart Remote & accessories

  9. Go Pro Hero 7 & accessories

  10. Movi Cinema Robot


Rest of my equipment like my laptop, battery chargers etc always fit nicely into my backpack. So I am not going into detail about that aspect of packing.

Solution : Pelicans! :)

After researching online and thinking about what would be my best option to pack up all of my gear, I decided to go with two Pelican cases. I already have experience using a Pelican case which I use to pack the Profoto B1 strobes that I use in my studio and on location. I have always been very impressed with how good, sturdy and reliable that case is. So I went to Kenmore Camera in Bothell, WA and picked up a Pelican 1560 and a Pelican 1610 case. I never order luggage online as I prefer seeing, holding and checking out these things before I buy them.

Pelican 1560 Case

Interior Dimensions L x W x D - 19.92 x 14.98 x 9.00 inches

Weight with Foam (lbs) - 20

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This outstanding case is made of ultra-high impact structural copolymer that makes it extremely strong and durable. It has a 0.25" (6.4 mm) neoprene o-ring, two easy-open double throw latches that seal perfectly. It is water tight and comes with pluck foam so that I can customize the layout inside it as per my unique equipment needs. It also has got wheels attached to the bottom, which is great for me since I hate to lift heavy boxes, considering the fact that I had a serious back injury many years ago, that I have to be conscious of. The feature that I love the most though, is the super easy to use release latch for the 17" retracting extension handle which works great when I pull the case along as I scurry around dragging it everywhere. The metal reinforced padlock protectors provide extra strength and extra security against cutting and theft. Optional divider sets are available too.

Gear that I decided to pack into the Pelican 1560 case

  • Nikon D850 & Battery Pack and viewfinder rubber eyecup

  • Nikon 24-70mm f 2.8 ED VR Lens

  • Sigma 150-600 Contemporary Lens

  • DJI Mavic 2 Pro & accessories

  • DJI Smart Remote & accessories

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I used the pluck foam panels that shipped with the Pelican box, to make holes that fit in the above showcased equipment. It took a while and some careful planning to make sure that all of it fit into their respective holes nicely. Keeping that measuring tape next to me did come in handy I must add!

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Now it’s time to pack all the gear into the foam.

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Everything fit nice and plush! Yay! Finally I am getting somewhere with this :) I also used the second pluck foam and carved out the holes in exactly the same configuration to add more protection and some height to the holes.

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Now that this case is all packed up and ready to go, let me move on to the next set of gear.

2) Pelican 1610 Case

Interior Dimensions L x W x D - 21.78 x 16.69 x 10.62 inches

Weight with Foam (lbs) - 22

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The Pelican 1610 is another fantastic rolling case in the Pelican large case category. The length and width make it a great solutions for a number of different applications. I really like the size factor. It is not too large to check in at the airlines and so makes it a good solution for traveling with your valuable gear. It too ships with dividers and pluck foam. I decided to use the dividers instead of the pluck foam this time.

Gear that I decided to pack into the Pelican 1560 case

  • Nikon 600mm f4 FL ED VR2

  • Induro CLT404L Stealth Carbon Fiber Series 4 74.6" Long Tripod

  • Go Pro Hero 7 & accessories

  • Movi cinema Robot and accessories

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Now this is where I adore my Induro Stealth Tripod. It is simply awesome to have a tripod system that can be so easily and quickly disassembled and packed into the pelican box. I first fitted the 600mm lens into the box and adjusted the divider to make space for the Movo Gimbal and the disassembled tripod. I used my water proof pants as some extra cushioning for the lens as well.

Then I fit in my Go pro Hero 7 and accessories all packed into a bag and placed it over the tripod and gimbal, along with the Movi Cinema Robot case.

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All that fit really well and I made sure that stuff doesn’t move around in the box too much, by making use of the unused padding as extra shock absorbers over and around the gear.

Securing your valuable boxes and last steps

I am almost at the end of this patient packing journey by now, yes! To secure my equipment I did some last minute shopping and bought 4 Eagle Creek TSA locks from REI. Yeah, I need to work on my planning, but hey these are baby steps now!

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And last but not the least, I always remember to ask the airline personnel to give me some “Fragile” stickers to stick onto the boxes on all sides. Most airline services take good care of your baggage with fragile stickers on them and they don’t just throw them onto the baggage claim conveyor belt, instead they hold it at the baggage pick-up counter.

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River Otters of Juanita Bay

North American River Otters are among my favorite creatures to observe! I love their playfulness and their intelligence so much. These top predators have a pivotal role in river ecosystems. They help control the populations of food species they prey upon. This affects the ecosystem as a whole, and as a result, their presence is a sign that the ecosystem is healthy and functional, which is great news for the rich and diverse ecosystem of Jaunita Bay! I have been wanting to photograph them up close for a while, but despite numerous visits to the wetlands of the bay, I have had no good luck. But as with anything, when you persist, things fall into place.

These photographs were all taken on the Nikon D850. I used a Sigma 150-600 Contemporary lens for some of the shots, and the Nikon 600mm FL ED VR for the rest. Ok enough talk, let’s take a look at these photographs! These were all processed in Capture One Pro 12 and finalized in Adobe Photoshop CC.

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As the sun got closer to the horizon, long shadows started spreading over the bay, creating little pools of light that made the Lilly pads look so interesting . It really was the perfect setting for this river otter to come up on a log and start munching away on the day’s catch; fresh, juicy, giant snails. And that is exactly what followed!

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On another evening, one of them came up really close to me with a snail in its mouth and literally posed for the camera, in the middle of gobbling down some tasty escargot! Keep scrolling down to see those moments!

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When not in the mood for giant snails, they regularly catch and eat catfish. Whenever I have seen that happen, they have been too far for me to take a decent photograph, but one time, this individual decided to come up on a nearby log and started munching on a big, juicy, catfish! I enjoyed these shots so much, particularly because of the storytelling composition, where predator- prey interaction is shown in such great form and light.
Fun fact: After watching this guy eat that tasty catfish, I went to the market and bought one and prepared it blackened with Cajun spices and made a delicious dinner that same night!

Once they have had their fill, they retreat back to their dens somewhere along the banks of Forbes creek, only to be back again the next day living the quintessential otter life! I am really looking forward to more otter encounters in future and hopefully this autumn will be a good one for some otter photography!

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Tuesday Tips - Backlight

Pointing your camera into the sun is usually something that we all tend to avoid, and rightly so, as no no one wants you to fry your precious retinal walls by staring at the sun directly! However, while photographing any subject, if you can find an angle where they are lit from behind, then you have the opportunity to use this beautiful back-light to outline your subject in a crisp and dramatic manner. I am a lover of monotone backgrounds, be it light colored (snow) or dark colored (heavy shadow). In the following images, I went after a dark background.
So this is normally how I got about with it; I find an angle where the back-light outlines the bird or animal I am photographing and then I process the image by applying a concave parabolic tone curve over the image in Photoshop (after my initial round of processing in capture one pro). This way, the background really goes dark revealing the bird in a subtle yet beautiful manner.

These images of a Caspian Tern flying over Juanita Bay, in the beautiful evening light were photographed and processed using this technique.

Camera : Nikon D850 | Lens : Sigma 150-600 C | Focal Length : 600 mm | Exposure : 1/1600 sec | Aperture : f/6.3 | ISO : 2200

Camera : Nikon D850 | Lens : Sigma 150-600 C | Focal Length : 600 mm | Exposure : 1/1600 sec | Aperture : f/6.3 | ISO : 2200

Caspian Terns love to shake off water after a dive and I was my lucky day as this dude shook off all that water against the beautiful back-light from the evening sun.

Camera : Nikon D850 | Lens : Sigma 150-600 C | Focal Length : 600 mm | Exposure : 1/1600 sec | Aperture : f/6.3 | ISO : 2200

Camera : Nikon D850 | Lens : Sigma 150-600 C | Focal Length : 600 mm | Exposure : 1/1600 sec | Aperture : f/6.3 | ISO : 2200

PROCESSING TECHNIQUE

This is the image as photographed, with an initial round of white balance and color adjustments in Capture One Pro, imported in Photoshop.

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Next, I added a tone curve adjustment layer to just pull up the bright spots of water droplets and make them brighter as I wanted to accentuate them a bit more. I made sure to mask out the bird so that the adjustment doesn’t affect it.

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Now here comes the parabolic tone curve, where I plotted a point on the tone curve near the shadow information on the histogram, and just pulled it down till I liked the results.

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And lastly I added a sharpening layer to sharpen the details a little bit, I noticed some artifacts on the bird after I did this, so I again used masking to mask out the areas on the bird where the artifacting was obvious.

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Have a nice week everyone and go out and chase some back light now!

Nikon D850 - Latest addition to my arsenal

Most of my wildlife photography up until now was done using a Nikon D500 and a Sigma 150-600 Contemporary lens. Although they are far from being a perfect pair, I was able to work around most of the quirks of this camera and lens combo to great effect. But every now and then I would lose focus just a tad bit during that critical moment, something that infuriates every photographer, no matter what genre they are into. Also, I was not able to print my work any larger than 13x19 (yes I want to print BIG) with a reasonable dpi that adheres to the standards that I have set for myself. 

Yesterday evening, all that changed! The love of my life, my dearest wife Mary Dee surprised me with a Nikon D850 that has a 45.7 Megapixel full frame sensor and comes equipped with state of the art autofocus technology! Here are the first couple of shots from it, paired with an SB 910 flash unit. I used the sun as a rim light and the flash for fill light.

For this portrait of a Rufous Hummingbird, I used a very slow shutter speed of 1/25th of a second and a very tiny aperture of f/29 and paired it with the flash set at full power. I have been wanting to capture a portrait of a Hummingbird, using slow shutter speed technique and rear sync flash for a while now. I wanted to get the body and head still while the wings blend into a symphony of blur. Got to execute it this weekend and i am quite happy with the way this turned out! I didn't think that I would ever use a shutter speed of 1/25 sec on a hummingbird!  The result was definitely pleasing artistically, to my eyes atleast!

Camera : Nikon D850 | Lens : Sigma 150-600 c | Focal Length : 600 mm | Exposure : 1/25 sec | Aperture : f/29 | ISO : 500 | Flash Make : SB 910 AF Speedlight | Flash mode : Manual | Flash Power : 1/1

Camera : Nikon D850 | Lens : Sigma 150-600 c | Focal Length : 600 mm | Exposure : 1/25 sec | Aperture : f/29 | ISO : 500 | Flash Make : SB 910 AF Speedlight | Flash mode : Manual | Flash Power : 1/1

For this shot the flash really helped with bringing out the various tones on the feathers of this young Rufous male. The result seemed more documentary than artistic; I would have liked to have had a bit more shadow to suit my taste honestly.

Camera : Nikon D850 | Lens : Sigma 150-600 c | Focal Length : 600 mm | Exposure : 1/2000 sec | Aperture : f/6.3 | ISO : 500 | Flash Make : SB 910 AF Speedlight | Flash mode : Manual | Flash Power : 1/16

Camera : Nikon D850 | Lens : Sigma 150-600 c | Focal Length : 600 mm | Exposure : 1/2000 sec | Aperture : f/6.3 | ISO : 500 | Flash Make : SB 910 AF Speedlight | Flash mode : Manual | Flash Power : 1/16

These last two shots were shot with the SB910 flash at full power, again beamed through a snoot so that it traveled all the way to 600mm. Really enjoyed the way the iridescence on the feathers shows off from the direct light off the flash.

Camera : Nikon D850 | Lens : Sigma 150-600 c | Focal Length : 600 mm | Exposure : 1/2000 sec | Aperture : f/6.3 | ISO : 500 | Flash Make : SB 910 AF Speedlight | Flash mode : Manual | Flash Power : 1/1

Camera : Nikon D850 | Lens : Sigma 150-600 c | Focal Length : 600 mm | Exposure : 1/2000 sec | Aperture : f/6.3 | ISO : 500 | Flash Make : SB 910 AF Speedlight | Flash mode : Manual | Flash Power : 1/1

Camera : Nikon D850 | Lens : Sigma 150-600 c | Focal Length : 600 mm | Exposure : 1/2000 sec | Aperture : f/6.3 | ISO : 500 | Flash Make : SB 910 AF Speedlight | Flash mode : Manual | Flash Power : 1/1

Camera : Nikon D850 | Lens : Sigma 150-600 c | Focal Length : 600 mm | Exposure : 1/2000 sec | Aperture : f/6.3 | ISO : 500 | Flash Make : SB 910 AF Speedlight | Flash mode : Manual | Flash Power : 1/1

So far, the D850, paired with my Sigma 150-600 Contemporary lens is giving me way more shots in focus, than the same lens with the D500. Once I get a bit more experience using this setup, I hope to make a blog post comparing my experiences with both these bodies.
Hope you all have a great week ahead!                    

Special thanks goes to my buddy Kelly Young for showing me her private hummingbird paradise nestled deep in the Pacific Northwest!

Tuesday Tips!

I am trying out a new blog entry for every first Tuesday of the month , called Tuesday Tips :) The idea is to post useful tid-bits of information about how I go about with my photography. Hopefully this will benefit at least some of you who like to think differently and go after results that stand out from the mundane. Let me know in the comments if you like the idea!

Alright, so here is this Tuesday's photography Tip : All light is good light when used well.

There's a lot of talk about photographing in the golden hour, which is ok, since the light that hits your subjects sideways is going to give more form and contrast. There is also the warmth of the evening light light which looks pleasing to most eyes. But shooting only in that one kind of light will create a monotony among your images. I am a big believer in breaking monotony in every aspect of my life, it keeps things fresh and interesting and it has translated into my photography too. I firmly believe that light, no matter what time of the day it is, can produce great results if used well, depending on the subject that you are shooting and the mood that you are after.
 

Pair of juvenile Great Egrets.  Camera : Nikon D500 | Focal Length : 600mm | Exposure : 1/2000 | Aperture : f/8 | ISO : 400

Pair of juvenile Great Egrets.

Camera : Nikon D500 | Focal Length : 600mm | Exposure : 1/2000 | Aperture : f/8 | ISO : 400

Great Egret in flight.  Camera : Nikon D500 | Focal Length : 600mm | Exposure : 1/2000 | Aperture : f/6.3 | ISO : 400

Great Egret in flight.

Camera : Nikon D500 | Focal Length : 600mm | Exposure : 1/2000 | Aperture : f/6.3 | ISO : 400

Great Egret mom and chicks.  Camera : Nikon D500 | Focal Length : 600mm | Exposure : 1/2000 | Aperture : f/9 | ISO : 400

Great Egret mom and chicks.

Camera : Nikon D500 | Focal Length : 600mm | Exposure : 1/2000 | Aperture : f/9 | ISO : 400

These photographs of Great egrets were shot at around 1 PM, traditionally a time that we avoid while going out to take photos, since noon light is usually dismissed off as harsh light that gives strong unpleasant shadows and blown out highlights. What we tend to forget though is that, because noon light is so strong, they bounce more off surfaces, especially when these surfaces are light colored (just like the egret's feathers!), filling light into the shadowed areas.    Any how, the point is, photographing these birds in "boring" light gave me some decent photographs that ended up as keepers! So before you judge any light and dismiss it off as unusable, take a chance and experiment with your camera and surprise yourself! 


To new beginnings!

So there it is. I have finally disciplined myself to stop procrastinating and get on with starting my wildlife photography blog.  Over the past many months, I have had so many people ask me about my approach to wildlife photography, the equipment that I use, and about various post-processing techniques that I apply to produce my work. That's when I realized that if I am to one day live my dream of doing wildlife photography full time, then I must work with the people who follow my work and interact with them on a regular basis, sharing knowledge and inspiring conservation of wildlife and their habitats. 

Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram have greatly enabled me to interact, share and learn from the community, but I think that I really should have a place where I can keep all my thoughts nicely organized and archived, so that not only myself but also other photography lovers can use it as a valuable resource. This might just be the place to do that. I will try my best and be disciplined about keeping this blog active and interesting :)

Here's to new beginnings!

An Anna's hummingbird stretching out its wings. Camera : Nikon D500 Lens : Sigma 150-600 c Focal Length : 600 mm Aperture : f/6.3 Exposure : 1/1250 sec ISO : 640

An Anna's hummingbird stretching out its wings.
Camera : Nikon D500
Lens : Sigma 150-600 c
Focal Length : 600 mm
Aperture : f/6.3
Exposure : 1/1250 sec
ISO : 640