Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sharp-tailed Grouse in Nebraska I

Sharp-tailed Grouse lek under the Milky Way
Nebraska National Forest near Halsey, Nebraska
     On the day before my Sharp-tailed Grouse adventure began, a local friend and I went to the lek and set-up two photography blinds.  When we arrived we looked for feathers, and found many.  There was no doubt that the lek was active, so we set about erecting the photo blinds.  Setting the blind up before the morning shoot was essential.  The moon was only 2 days old, so there was no moonlight whatsoever the following morning.  We would have never been able to get the blinds in the proper place in the dark.
The next morning we arrived at the blind two hours before sunrise.  The temperature was somewhere in the forties, not warm but not brutally cold.  The stars were wonderful.  I have some pretty dark skies at home, but they had nothing on a moonless night in the heart of Nebraska. 
     The constellation Scorpio loomed over the southern horizon and the Milky Way was as brilliant as I had ever seen it, maybe more.  It was then that I thought of shooting an image of the sky above the lek.  I wanted my blog viewers to understand the experience, and arriving at the blind before sunrise so not to disturb the birds is essential.
    Over the years I have found that a ten second exposure when using a 20mm to 35mm, f2 lens works quite well as an exposure.  This exposure produces star that are points of light instead of streaks of light (star trails).  I did not have a cable release with me so I set my shutter to 13 seconds.  I set the camera to mirror lock up to reduce vibration. I then placed my hand in front of the lens, trip the shutter, counted to 3 and removed my hand.  This prevents vibration from touching the shutter button.  The technique seems to work fairly well.  At ten seconds there does seem to be slight star movement when the image is made larger.
     After my morning of shooting Sharp-tailed Grouse (see previous post) I took a photo of the lek in the morning light.  To create this photo I used photoshop and combined the two images.  I layered the star image over the lek image and proceeded to erase the black landscape area of the star image.  I reduced the opacity of the eraser to 5% and erased the black landscape area of the star image until the foreground area of the lek was visible.  I erased just enough to give the hint of the grassy lek.
    The idea is to give you a hint of my experience.  It was absolutely amazing.  The stars, the grasslands, and birds; but nothing I say here, or images that I post can convey the experience.  It is something that you must experience yourself to fully understand its magnitude.

To Be Continued ……………...

Nikon D800, Nikkor 35mm f2, 10 seconds @ f2

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