Saturday, March 27, 2010

Kid-Vention - Charlottesville, Virginia

About three years ago my sister (@suewalls1 on twitter)and myself (@dwmaiden) decided to collaborate on a wildlife book series for children. She was the writer and I was the photographer. We wanted to expose children to the wonders of the fascinating world of animals around us as well as encourage the beginning reader.

The project had three goals.
1)expose children to wildlife & nature all around them
2)help the beginning reader
3)teach kids reading and learning can be fun!

As a result we have completed A-Child's-Book series.

This morning, armed with our book series we traveled down to Charlottesville, Virginia for the Kid-Vention day. It was an event sponsored by the Virginia Discovery Museum - a hands on children's museum.

We had a great time and sold a few books! It was a free event and had lots of activities for the kids! All in all, a wonderful day was had by all! Lots to do for the tots and great weather, although it was a bit cool!

If you would like to see (and hear) samples of our books go to: to see and hear samples of the the series! Click on the graphic of the book at the bottom of each page to hear Lauren (my great niece, my sister's granddaughter) read a page from the book. She also was our 'editor' for the book. She made sure the words we used were age appropriate for the beginning reader. To round things off and make this series a family affair, my nephew (my sister's son) designed the covers.

We are currently working on A Child's book for the Loudoun County Sheriff's Department. Working with Sheriff Simpson we will try to explain the daily duties and responsibilities of the department and how these everyday heroes keep us safe. Stay tuned!

To order prints of the pictures in the books, go to my website:

Saturday, March 13, 2010

How to discribe to a non-birder a "Lifer"

Since I began really looking at birds I've had a problem with trying to describe the feeling of seeing a life bird. In the beginning, it was not such a big deal because I didn't really care to share my inexperience. "So you saw a Titmouse?". But now after a few years of seeing the usual suspects, to see a new bird is a little more special. I've tried to share my exhilaration with friends and family but I always get that "he's weird" look.

Well, I'm asking you to help me put into words, for the non-birder, what it feels like for a birder (I'm using birder loosely) to see a life bird. The closest I've been able to come is the second a firework explodes in the air, but that instant last for minutes. I know when I see a new bird (lifer) I'm looking around for someone to tell and point it out!

Anyway, please help me out and leave a comment with your best description of the emotion it causes in us birders to see a lifer!

Thank you!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Luck Favors the Prepared ~ From @bosque_bill

I've seen some pretty amazing photographs and thought "wow, that was a lucky shot"! And I've even told people that some of my shots were lucky. But after doing a little thinking about it, it wasn't luck at all. It was being prepared for the moment. Here's an example where a lucky shot is a relative term.

I remember it was a cold morning in February, a Sunday morning. I decided to go to the gas station to fill up on gas and coffee. About a half mile from my house I spotted this handsome Bald Eagle perched high in a tree just off the highway. I pulled over to the shoulder, grabbed my camera and started shooting away! I got a few nice shots of the 50 or so I took. These shots have turned out to be some of my best sellers.

So what does that experience tell you? Not that I'm a fantastic photographer or knowledgeable in tracking and spotting Eagles. No, it tells you that I was prepared for the moment! I wasn't going birding that morning. Nope, just a routine chore that turned into a great photo op. The Bald Eagle taught me that always being prepared for the 'Lucky Shot' is very rewarding!

So here's the tips,
1) Take your camera EVERYWHERE! People think I'm crazy and weird but, I take two cameras with me with fully charged batteries and freshly formatted CF cards. One with my 500mm tele-zoom lens, the other with a wide-angle lens. All bases covered!

2) After a days shooting, copy your shots to your computer. I don't go through them right away. I know MY limitations, I get very impatient/bored going though shots at the end of a day of shooting. I try to wait until the next morning before picking any keepers.

3) Format your media after you've copied it to your computer.

4) Recharge your batteries after each shooting session. There is nothing worse than a power shutdown while shooting.

5) Camera settings: This is really up to you and what type of photographs you are taking. For me, I set mine in Shutter Priority with 1250/sec shutter ISO 400. I'll then change as required by the lighting conditions.

6) Take an extra CF card with you! I ALWAYS have an extra 1gb card in my left pants pocket. Just in case I have a SUPER LUCKY day! The best thing is that I haven't put one through the washer yet! OH NO! I might have jinxed myself!

That's it! The Eagle example taught me that yes, I guess I was lucky that there was a Bald Eagle in an unexpected place but it also taught me that I was prepared to capture the moment! I haven't seen anymore Eagles in my neighborhood since then but I'm extremely happy that I was ready for it that morning!

If you would like to see higher resolution photos of my 'Sunday Morning Treat' here's the link!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Photographing Birds

D.W. Maiden Photography

Here's a few tips on how to get good pictures of birds:

The best advise I can give you is DO NOT try to chase birds! You'll lose! Think about it. They are able to escape in three dimensions! While we are stuck in two. Unless you can fly or run at 40 mph you'll lose.

The first thing you will want to do is; your homework. I spend a lot of time just watching AND LISTENING for birds. If you only watch birds you'll have missed 50 percent of your chances! I'm still learning to ID by song, so the best thing I can tell you is to listen for something that is a different song. You'll be amazed at what you can capture when you start paying attention to all your senses!

Birds, like all animals are creatures of habit. I know that I go to the same place for lunch each day and order the same food most of the time. Birds are no different. When they find a food source, they'll visit it routinely. For example, I have Cardinals that visit my feeders each morning and evening. At around 4:30pm I can be assured that Cardinals will be feeding on the sunflower seeds from my feeders. Use that to your advantage. If you do your homework, you'll know where to be and when to be there.

Backyard birds are fairly easy to attract with the proper food source. Don't skimp on the food! Good, quality feed will reward you with dozens of species! I've found black oiled sunflower seeds and safflower seeds attract a nice variety of backyard birds. Don't forget the Woodpeckers, they really like suet cakes with sunflower seeds. Be sure to place your feeders in an area where there is ample perching. Most birds will perch at a safe distance before visiting or re-visiting your feeder. But, make sure your feeders are far enough away from 'jumping' spots of squirrels. Squirrels are amazing creatures and can jump a long way. I would recommend putting feeders at least 20 feet from the nearest jumping point. Really!

After you've observed the habits of your birds you're half way there! With all the information you now have, you can PLAN how to capture the best images. Be aware of the lighting conditions. I always like the sun to be over my left shoulder when I shoot. No real reason for it, just my preference. But you definitely want to shoot with the sun at your back. If you can't get that angle then use a fill-flash (but that's a whole other subject!).

Now for your camera. Get the biggest/longest lens you can afford. I've heard and really believe that when purchasing a camera set up, 2/3's of your budget should be spent on the lens. Get the longest, lowest f-stop lens your budget can tolerate. The body has a role to play but, the lens is the thing! There's not many things that you can say that 'you get what you pay for' but, it is true in photography. You get what you pay for!

Use a tripod! I never take my camera off a tripod. I know it's a pain to drag a tripod around but there is no way you can handhold a 400mm lens without shake. Camera manufactures have come a long way with anti-shake and image-stabilization but there is no way you can hold a long lens steady enough to get a sharp photo of a bird! Plus, for in-flight shots I turn my IS off anyway (I'm always fighting with IS).

Get as close to the bird as possible. I normally will use a blind. The word blind sounds exotic but can be anything that hides you and your camera. It could be your house, a pup-tent or a tree. Anything that will hide you from your subject while allowing you a unobstructed line-of-site to your subject.

That's about it! In a future blog I'll share my camera settings and other things to keep in mind and maybe go into a little more detail on each of the steps above. But if you do your homework and plan, 80% of the battle is won! Then it is just learning to master your tool (camera) which really is the easiest part!

I saw a tweet today that sums it all up. It was posted by @ShowFeeders and said "Good luck is another name for tenacity of purpose." That quote sums it up!

Good luck and happy birding!