Another thing I might add is that the whooper swan is the national bird of Finland. I was kind of proud of our national bird, having witnessed them to perform this kind of imaginative ritual "only" for the sake of strengthening their relationship. There's no reproductive motivation for mating as late as this. Even if they could have a second set of cygnets, these couldn't grow big enough to fly before the lake freezes over and the swans have to migrate.
>”very neat how did you get the white water lilies in to match the swans?”
That was sort of tricky. The swans were in different positions, with varying amounts of light from the sun, sky, water and reed leaves. Usually the shadow parts of the swans were significantly bluer than the sunlit parts. For that, I loaded Lightroom’s adjustment brush with more exposure, less saturation, more clarity, and in some cases more yellow (to balance the excess blue in the shades). Sometimes the added yellow required added magenta.
> “one could definitely anthropomorphize the female swan's response”
That’s probably the most elegant statement anyone has said about me or my work :) I understand the words but let me make sure I understand the meaning. Are you responding to me wondering why mate this late in the year because the possibly resulting swans could not fly before the winter? And you were saying, why do humans do it?
> “lovely, by the way what iso did you use…”
The shutter speed and aperture were manually set to 1/800s and f/10. 1/800 is usually fast enough for big birds like swans. I could not use a tripod since I was sitting on a pontoon swimming pier, supporting the camera against my knees. I chose f/10 because it is close to the optimum aperture and the two swans were not always at the same distance. The ISO was set to Auto 5000, but the actual ISO varied between 500 and 1000. Exposure compensation was -0.7 (I have a bad habit of blowing out swans, but fortunately not this time.)
Absolutely fabulous shots. And you're just the person I need to talk to about contrast and metering... either spot or matrix. I think you've overcome the problem I'm having. (I posted a question earlier this morning after a disappointing morning shooting an Egret) You've made the swans white, but plenty of detail in the different shades of white. How? 1. Is it the original metering? (I checked the exif data and couldn't tell why type you'd used.) 2. This appears to be shot with a mid morning type sun. How do you keep the whites from blowing out? 3. Your focus is superb. Any hints about "how to"? And again, congrats on such wonderful photos. You've harnessed the D800 quite nicely! Dave
Thank you very much for your kind comments. I’m glad you asked about the technique. I like discussing it.
But don’t confuse me with the masters on this forum who can take perfectly exposed photos every time they need to. I rely on post-processing and try to ensure that I have something to process.
Center-weighted measuring might have produced closer to optimum exposures but I didn’t have time to think about that. In this case it was necessary to ensure that the white feathers are not blown out. I knew that matrix metering and -0.7EV exposure compensation usually ensure that the feathers have detail, assuming that there’s enough white in the scene for the matrix metering to detect it (and not dismiss the white areas as specular highlights). I’ve set my camera to focus activation when I press the AF-ON button. But trying to use one button for focusing, another for exposure lock and a third for the shutter is too much for me. This is why I rely on matrix metering and -0.7EV exposure compensation.
As to post-processing, take these three versions of #7 in the original post (third one from the bottom). The first picture here is with all Lightroom settings at there default value. The sunlit feathers appear blown out, and if you look at the feathers on the male’s underside, they are not too different in color from the color of the lake, from which the underside is lit.
The next version is about the best I could come up with Lightroom. Cropped, straightened, global and local adjustments. The biggest local adjustment concerns the male’s underside. After boosting up the shadows, the belly was unnaturally blue. Obviously, because it was lit by the sky, via the lake’s surface. Often when I adjust shadows, I change the color balance of LR’s adjustment brush to more yellow (to take out the excess blue). Sometimes it’s necessary to add magenta to get rid of the excess yellow. But in this case it was simpler than that because the swans are white, and all there was to do was to set the saturation to zero in the local adjustment brush.
I wasn’t quite happy with this result. The feathers were still lacking in detail. I tried using multiple passes of adjustment brush, each set to maximum contrast and clarity, but with such ultra-strong adjustments the brush strokes tend to be visible. This is why I sent the LR-adjusted version to Photomatix Pro 4.x for processing as a single-shot HDR. The Photomatix version had lots of detail but the color scene was very different from the other pictures in the series. Normally, when I get funny colors from Photomatix, I load the original and the Photomatix-ed version to Photoshop as layers and use layer blend modes to get the color from the original image. But in this case I wanted to try something different. I edited the Photomatix-ed version in Photoshop and used Adjustments - Match Color to copy the color scene from another picture in the series (I don’t remember which one, nor does it matter). In the Match Color dialog, I set the “Source” to another picture which had colors that I liked, and fine-tuned the sliders. Back in LR, I sharpened the picture and added some post-crop vignetting.
As to your guess that these are mid-morning shots, guess again :) You may not have realized that in Finland the sun will never rise very high. In southern Finland, at latitude 60N, the sun does not rise higher than 30+23=53 degrees even at noon in mid-summer, and these pictures were shot in August. The EXIF data puts the time of shot at 13:38 (1:38 PM) but at my longitude the sun’s high point occurs at 25 minutes past noon, or 1:25 when daylight saving time is in effect. Hence the first image (at 1:38 PM) was shot 13 minutes past the sun’s high point, and the last picture 13 minutes later.
My wife and I just returned from our family's summer place. The place felt so empty with the swans gone. We saw them fly last weekend (including the juveniles), and this weekend they were gone, or at least we couldn't find them anymore. We hope to see them again next spring.
It is common belief that Swans stay together for life, this is not always true. Many reasons exist and the male and the female birds, the cob and pen, usually attempt to mate for life, although it is not true to say that if one of the birds were to die the other would necessarily pine away. It is possible for an adult bird to find an alternative mate.
It is possible that the father of the juveniles, the Cob, died. Swans are extremely territorial and will fight to the death to defend their nest and the female Pen. What you saw may have been part of the courtship with the new kid on the block! It is also possible that they may stay together for life.
Evidently and I didn't know this until recently, Black Swans, unlike Mute, Whopper, Berwick etc are notoriously disloyal and may have a trio of partners.
I'm no great expert in the torrid life of Swans, but I have read a fair bit and this may be a possible reason for the late courtship. If you didn't observe them rubbing each others necks and other usual pre sexual activities, then it could have just been the Cob and Pen sealing a new relationship.