Mark Smith Photography: Blog en-us (C) Mark Smith Photography (Mark Smith Photography) Fri, 29 Jun 2018 19:52:00 GMT Fri, 29 Jun 2018 19:52:00 GMT Mark Smith Photography: Blog 120 80 Amazing Fighting Eagles in Washington State - Nikon D850 I arrive at first light. The air is cool and thick with moisture. Standing among a small group of flowers I take in my surroundings. Sandwiched between the famous city of Seattle and the massive towering trees of the Olympic National Forest lies the Hood River Canal, a tidally influenced body of water that attracts a wide variety of impressive animals. 


Its high tide and a small group of geese nervously swims across the open water. The vibrant trees along the shore mixed with the rising sun cast a beautiful reflection that covers the surface of the water with an amazing array of color.

A seal decides to see what's happening above the water. Another seal lazily floats upside down and then slowly disappears below the surface. There is an entirely different world just below the surface of the water and the tide rushing past this great blue heron is a really good sign that this area is about to under go a massive change as all of that water just magically vanishes. 


The receding tide exposes thousands of oysters and all kinds of creatures that were once underwater now scramble for safety because there are eyes watching from above. The Great Blue Herons are first on the scene and they eagerly scan the water for food. They may be the first on the scene but this gull is the first bird to strike blood as it pulls an unsuspecting fish from its once safe location of oysters.

Another Heron a little further out has managed to catch a fish but the heron's are not the top level of the food chain here. A much larger bird is also here for the feast and that bird is the always impressive bald eagle. 

Experiencing and photographing one eagle is always great but this location has several and each eagle wants its own fish for breakfast and they don't mind taking it from herons or other eagles. Armed with my Nikon D850, I give you a front row seat to the incredible bald eagle action captured on the Nikon D850.

Bald Eagle Nikon D850 Mark Smith PhotographyBald Eagle Nikon D850 Mark Smith PhotographyBald Eagle Nikon D850 Mark Smith Photography For more wildlife and bird photography action, check out my youtube channel: Mark Smith Photography on Youtube


(Mark Smith Photography) 500mm bird d850 eagle eagles f4 mark nikon photography smith washington wildlife Fri, 29 Jun 2018 19:47:37 GMT
Nikon D850 and Nikon 500F4 VR - Bird Photography Easter Morning Surprise

Sunrise is always the perfect time for bird photography and this location has something very special. I'm looking for a nesting pair of Sandhill Cranes. They have been sitting on one egg for about a month. It should hatch any day now and I want to be there to see and capture some images of that baby. First stop, the nesting sight.

Adult Sandhill Crane One adult is standing guard. So I use this opportunity to capture a few images. The D850 paired with a Nikon 500 F4 is an incredible combo capable of capturing some beautiful images. Time for a close look at the nest. One adult is on the resting on the nest, but no babies this morning. Time to do a little exploring and see what else I can find.

Adult Sandhill Crane on Nest On my way towards the back I find this Little Blue Heron who is in the middle of changing from white to blue. These birds are white for their first year. And it would appear this bird is having a Cajun style breakfast. That's a craw fish in its beak.

Little Blue Heron White Phase Then, I find this cute Black Belly whistling duck. I'm really digging the texture on this bird's head.

Black Belly Whistling Duck As I come around the corner, one of the ponds is full of birds who are all busy looking for breakfast.

The first bird I notice is this magnificent Roseate spoonbill who is very a pro at catching small fish with that odd spoon shaped beak.

Roseate Spoonbill Here's a good shot of that spoon shaped beak. I was using a fast shutter speed of 1/3200 of a second because this bird was moving through the water quickly. I wanted to freeze the motion and capture as much detail as possible, like this. Take a close look at this bird, pretty amazing right?

Roseate Spoonbill Feeding Here, let's get a little closer. WOW! Check out all that wild color! That bright red eye, the black collar, the rusty color on these shoulders, that small patch of pink feather on the neck just above the breast and of course that brilliant red and pink on the rest of the body. If you look real close you can see a hint of an orange tail as well. What a wild looking bird!

This photo shoot was going good until agreat egret deiced to photobomb my shot. That didn't seem to bother the spoonbill at all, IN fact, it just shook it off and went about its business. 

Right next to the hungry spoonbill was a graceful Black Necked Stilt. This is one of my favorite birds and I'm not sure why but they remind of a Doctor Sues or a Jim Henson creation. The current conditions were perfect to get some reflection shots of these awesome little birds. 

Black Necked Stilt If you are new to photography, you might not see "reflections" yet. Over time we learn to tune them out but they can help create some really beautiful artistic style images like these. Here's something else that is interesting to note. Smooth water like this helps reflect and bounce light right back up on the bird which in turn can really help illuminate the underside of the bird. Ripples or waves on the surface of the water will cause the light to scatter in different directions. Smooth surfaces are always better for reflecting light sources.

My settings were the same in this entire series. I used a shutter speed of 1/2000 of a second and an aperture of F5.6. I also dialed in some negative exposure compensation to keep the white on the birds from being overexposed.

Then a few wood storks decided to make an appearance and these aren't the prettiest of birds but in this early morning light, they sure did look impressive. These birds are also extremely good at hunting. They stick their beaks down in the water and then kick the ground with their feet. This is a great way to scare any hiding fish right into the bird's crazy looking beak. Once that happens, there is little hope for the fish. The detail from this camera lens combo is so impressive. Here's a closer look where the fish is just balanced there on the bird's beak.

Woodstork eating fish

And of course  the photogenic spoonbill keeps photobombing the shots. Here are the settings I used for this series of wood stork shots. Nothing too unusual. A fast shutter speed to capture and freeze that action an aperture of f5.6 was perfect because the bird was in more of a profile pose and some negative exposure compensation to keep the bird from being overexposed.

Immediately after the wood storks, a small pack of tricolored herons descended upon the back pond. I call this group of birds a pack instead of a flock because these birds were hunting in a group and it was an amazing thing to see and a behavior I have never seen before from this bird. There was a total of 8 birds in this pack and they varied in age from a few youngsters to a few adults with full breeding plumage. Check out that awesome blue colored beak, that red eye and those purple legs. These are the breeding colors for this species of bird and what an incredible color display! Watching these birds hunt was an incredible experience. They were so frantic and busy it was hard to choose which one to focus on.

Tricolored Heron I used practically the same settings for these birds as well expect I stopped down the aperture just a little to help compensate for the erratic behavior of these birds. This gave me a little more depth of field to work with in case the birds weren't perfectly parallel to me and my camera.

Do you remember this bird from a little earlier. This is a juvenile little blue heron. This is what the adult version of the same bird looks like. And it has a nice big fish as well. Pretty drastic change in color isn't it?

Little Blue Heron With Fish Time for a few more nice reflection shots before moving on a little further into the wetlands in search of other birds. As I made my way towards the back, I could see a pair of Sandhill cranes far off in the distance. I wanted to get a little closer and see what they were up to because I have never seen any this far back in the wetlands before.

Here's one of the adults now and it looks like I missed focus on this bird but I didn't. Take a closer look at the bird's feet and you will see a tiny little baby Sandhill crane.

Adult Sandhill Crane and baby Colt

I would guess this baby was only a few days old. Mom and dad are busy feeding this little baby and it looks like dragonflies are on the menu this morning. 

Sandhill Crane Colt I've noticed that for the first few weeks of their life, the chicks have this milky color in their pupil when they are facing the sun. I'm not sure why this is but in these other shots where the chick is not looking directly into the sun, the eye looks normal. It must have something to do with their development of their eyes. And then it is back to eating dragonflies and lots of them. The parents will feed this little baby anything they can find so that it can quickly grow. A bigger bird is less likely to be taken by a predator. And then it was off down the trail. This little bird has a big, brand new world to explore. What a great morning at the local wetlands. As I headed out, I decided to stop and check on the Sandhill crane nest from earlier in the morning and I'm glad I did.

Their chick has hatched! And those tiny little legs are being used for the first time. Come on you can do it, Yes! And its first step ever! WOW. What an incredible thing to see! That took a lot out of this little bird. Time for a much needed rest.

Sandhill Crane Chick Hatching I grabbed a few shots of this incredible moment with this chick. Here you can see the parent, the chick and the now empty egg shell. This family has quite the challenge ahead of them and this little baby still needs to learn how to traverse this strange new land. Walking is still a challenge as well. Navigating the maze of sticks that make up the nest is tough on new legs but in time this little baby will be walking with no problems and in about 3 months, it will take its first flying lessons. For now, it is time to sit back and relax with one of the parents. It was great seeing two Sandhill crane families in the wetlands both with a new generation of life.

(Mark Smith Photography) 500 bird birding crane d850 f4 florida mark nikon photography sandhill smith wildlife Sun, 08 Apr 2018 01:41:27 GMT
Nikon D500 Best Bird Photography Day to Date Come along for the trip. Watch the video below.


It didn't take long to find my first two subjects for the day. This first bird is a Northern Parula and these birds are tiny. This bird stayed in the shade of a larger tree so I lowered my shutter speed to get more light into the camera. Even at this lower shutter speed, the image came out good. 

This next bird is a Blue Gray Gnatcatcher. It is pretty easy to see where this bird gets its name and man was it quick. It never stood still for more than a half a second but I manged one nice shot before the bird vanished. 

The first bird to make an appearance in the oak trees was this beautiful yellow throated warbler. It is really easy to see where this bird got its name. Look at that brilliant yellow throat. I decided to keep my shutter speed low in order to get enough light. Even though this little bird was busy bouncing around the branches, it would occasionally stop for just a moment to pose for a shot. These little birds are known for being cute but on this day I learned all of these little birds are incredible predators. I watched this one pull a small moth off the oak tree and swallow it whole.

Then I found this cute little Eastern Phoebe. This bird comes from the Flycatcher family but it wasn't hunting flies this morning. This small bird was hunting lizards. Yet another small bird of prey that was very good at what it was doing. The lizard is a baby Brown Anole. This is an invasive species. Here you see the bird trying to swallow the lizard and you get a nice shot of that bright yellow throat. And finally, only the lizard's tail is left. 

The trail turned north and brought me close to a large group of mangrove trees. There were plenty of birds in those mangroves. This first bird is a Common Yellowthroat. I believe this is an immature male. It was busy checking me out and when a nice wind gust blew in an ruffled those tail feathers. Within a few seconds, the bird forgot I was there and started looking for food by flipping over leaves on the sandy shore. A quick meal of this tiny worm before getting even close so I could capture this incredibly detailed shot. Just look at all of that feather detail. Keep in mind, this bird is only 4-5 inches tall or 11-13 centimeters.

Immediately after that I spotted this little Ruby Crowned Kinglet in the oak trees to my right. I only managed this one shot before it vanished.

Way back in the mangroves I found this tiny little Black and White Warbler who had just snatched a dragonfly out of the air. That is an amazing feat. I'm still not sure how this bird managed to grab this dragonfly but it did. All of these little birds were proving to be quite the hunters and as if all of these great birds weren't enough, things were about to get better.

I heard a splash on the other side of the mangroves and I struggled to see what had just hit the water. I could see a bird in the distance so I frantically looked for an opening in the mangroves so I could grab a shot. I found an area just big enough to look through and grabbed this amazing shot of an osprey with a giant mullet. What an impressive bird. Look at those big meaty talons. I would bet that fish weighs more than the osprey. Check out how the Osprey has positioned the fish so that it is more aerodynamic. That's just incredible!

This Tri-colored Heron was about to show me why it should be called a bird of prey. This was one hungry bird. Today's appetizer is fresh tadpoles so fresh in fact that they are still wiggling with life.

Apparently this bird wanted two appetizers. The second course was a big fat minnow that disappeared in one gulp.

We might as well add some type of huge water insect to the menu. A couple of quick head shakes and this strange looking bug was gone.

At this point you would think this Tri-colored heron was full but no. This bird was about to give me the shot of a lifetime. Can I get a drum roll please!

Not only did this bird catch a huge frog and fly, but it managed to look right at me with its prize. To be honest, A drop of sweat had just rolled into my right eye. I was basically shooting blind at this point. I pressed the shutter button and hoped for the best. The D500 grabbed a perfect focus on the bird's face. Here's a nice close up shot. Look at the frog. It has one front leg or hand grasping its belly and the other is reaching out towards the sky. I know things look really bad for the frog but the frog had a plan. I managed one more shot before the frog initiated operation "Scream like a small child." The frog quite literally screamed and when I say it screamed, I mean it screamed like a small child who just woke up from the worst nightmare ever. This was not the reaction the Tricolored heron expected. The Tri-colored heron got a little freaked out and dropped the frog. The rest is history!

You would think that entire Tri-colored Heron series would be the perfect end to an incredible day of bird photography, but there was one more surprise for me. The Tri-colored Heron was suddenly spooked. It quickly flew away and then I saw why. This Juvenile Bald Eagle was quickly approaching. It banked and started coming right towards me. I zoomed in as the eagle turned its head and our eyes met. It was looking right at me and then it turned showing me that impressive wingspan before vanishing somewhere over the tree line. A perfect way to end what might go down in history as my best bird photography day yet!

Thanks for coming along with me. I had a great time sharing this trip with you. 

(Mark Smith Photography) bird d500 nikon photography wildlife Sat, 11 Nov 2017 22:54:31 GMT
Unusual Weather Event Makes For Incredible Bird Photography Nikon D500 Fort DeSoto If you would prefer to come along with me on this adventure, then watch the video!

In May of 2017, I used a really cool strategy that made for an incredible day of bird photography. I talk about this strategy and quite a few other ones in my book: Bird Photography: A Beginner’s Guide to Mastering the Art of Capturing Stunning Images of Birds.

What's the strategy? I used an oncoming weather system to my advantage. A very strong storm front was moving in from the north. As luck would have it, this storm front would be moving directly over a major bird migration flyway during the last few days of spring migration.

As this line of storms moved over the Gulf of Mexico it pushed a large amount of migratory birds inland. These are birds that typically fly over the ocean in order to go north and because of this, these birds aren't always seen on land.

When an event like this happens, you want to be there with your camera because there is a really good chance of seeing some birds you wouldn't normally find in the area. So I packed up my gear and headed to Fort Desoto, a really cool county park on the west coast of Florida.

Fort Desoto is an all around great birding location pretty much any time of the year, but on this day the birding was exceptional and on the way back home I was presented with another totally awesome birding opportunity which I'll share at the end of this post! Come on, let's see what kind of birds the storm blew in.

As soon as I arrived, I found several of these Barn Swallows just laying on the side of the road and along the sidewalk. It might appear as if the bird is sick but it's not. These swallows were literally exhausted from battling the storm the night before. After a much needed rest, they were back in the air.

Ahh, one of my favorite types of birds, the hummingbird. I never get tired of watching these fantastic little birds as they dart in and out of cover. This is a male Ruby Throated Hummingbird even though you can't really see the ruby red throat in this shot.

The light has to hit the darker area of the throat just right in order to see that brilliant red color. 

Hummingbirds make for some very challenging photography. You have to use very fast shutter speeds to stop their insanely fast movements and you need a camera with really good auto focus capabilities. The Nikon D500 worked great for me. 

These male ruby throated hummingbirds aren't alone. There are females here too. The females don't have that red throat display, they have a much more drab color to them. Still just as beautiful even though she doesn't have those colors.

Check out her little feet. They look just like little hands! All of these tiny hummingbirds were busy feeding on the nectar of the sea grape blossoms. Those are the plants you see in the images. The blossoms will actually turn into small green grapes and people will make jelly from these grapes. This is something I have yet to try. Gonna add that to my must eat list!

I noticed a lot of cars parked on the side of the road and there were even more people standing and pointing. This could only mean one thing, there was something unusual up ahead.

All those people were in the hot spot. There were rare birds practically everywhere in the sea grapes. This first shot is a Summer Tanager. It didn't want to come out of the sea grapes so I grabbed this quick shot before the bird vanished.

Then I spotted this Rose Breasted Grosbeak hiding deep in the bushes and much like the Summer Tanager, this Grosbeak didn't want to come out of cover. I used single point auto focus, placed the single point on the Grosbeak's head and the D500 focused right through those thick branches.

It was almost as if this Grosbeak didn't want to fully show me how it got the name Rose Breasted, but then just as I was about to give up, it turned around and gave me this nice shot and now you know why this is called the Rose Breasted Grosbeak.

Then I spotted this Black Throated Green Warbler and this little bird was very curious. It kept hopping from branch to branch but never once took its eyes off me. In this last shot, he flew in a little closer for one more look and then vanished. It was like there a regular rotation of rare birds in this small group of sea grapes.

And then from out of nowhere, a Yellow Warbler appeared on the branch in front of me. I grabbed this shot before the bird bounced back into cover. Once it was in the safety of the thicker branches, it would only appear very briefly at time. I managed to grab a couple of shots but I would have loved to get one of this bird right out in the open.

Next up was a group of Indigo Buntings. Quite a few of these showed up to the party and they also liked to stay hidden in the sea grapes but eventually they got a little braver. 

And yet another awesome bird decided to fly in to have its picture taken. This is the Eastern Kingbird. It does have a sort of regal look to it, doesn't it?

As if all of these awesome birds weren't enough, This incredible bird landed on a branch just a few feet from me and was really wondering what I was doing with that big old camera lens. This beautiful little bird is the Bay-breasted Warbler and this was my favorite bird of the day. Just look at those colors. This bird spends its summers in Canada and its winters in South America. They are rarely seen in this location. What an awesome surprise and how cool of this little bird to fly in so close and let me take its picture.

I ventured out towards the beautiful blue waters of the bay to see what I could find. I immediately saw an Osprey nest. As luck would have it, the Osprey nest was occupied and one osprey was working to make that nest as big as possible.

Just how big is an Osprey's nest? That big. That is a huge pile of sticks. I really like this picture. It helps put things into perspective, especially with the Osprey sitting all nice and comfortable at the top.

n the beginning of this video, I mentioned another really cool bird experience that happened on my way home. As I was driving down the highway I saw a group of birds drag a dead alligator from the side of the road deep into the tall grass. I pulled over, grabbed my camera and slowly approached them. To my surprise I found this, not one but two Crested Caracaras and one Turkey Vulture. For a moment I felt like I was in Africa witnessing a fresh kill as I slowly got closer to these birds. I used the tall grass to my advantage and stayed down wind and light from the birds. I managed to grab a few good shots before I was spotted.

What an incredible ending to a very awesome day.

(Mark Smith Photography) 2017 bird birding d500 desoto florida fort migration nikon photo photography spring wildlife Thu, 02 Nov 2017 19:51:54 GMT
Chasing Warblers Spring Migration 2017 Florida Keys Nikon D500 Nikkor 200-500

In the spring of 2017, I was lucky enough to find myself in the Florida Keys during Spring Migration. The really cool thing about this is the fact that there are thousands of birds who migrate from all over the world and end up resting in the Florida Keys. This gives any photographer a huge amount of opportunity to not only get some excellent once in a lifetime shots but also see many somewhat exotic birds for the very first time.

I decided to try my luck at Fort Zachary Taylor state park. An incredibly beautiful state park located in Key West Florida. I decided not to focus on some of the larger shore birds like herons, egrets and ospreys. Instead, I spent an afternoon in some of the areas where there were higher concentrations of trees knowing that smaller birds like warblers would be more likely to hiding there.

Photographing these tiny little birds under the cover of trees is extremely challenging. Not only are warblers very quick but the tree cover reduces the amount of visible light. Low light means extremely challenging photography. 

Challenge accepted! I am confident in my photography abilities and I know my Nikon D500 paired with the Nikkor 200-500mm lens will help me capture some incredible shots of these tiny little warblers. During this trip I photographed a lot of birds I had never seen before. 

First up is this awesome little Palm Warbler. (Setophaga palmarum) These little birds are fairly common in south Florida but I'll never miss an opportunity to grab a few shots. Here's the first shot and it was captured using these settings.  Aperture: F6.3, Shutterspeed 1/1600, ISO 1600.

I prefer to keep my shutter speed around 1/2000 of a second for these little bird because they move so fast, but there wasn't enough light to use that shutter speed and get a proper exposure so I lowered the shutter speed to 1/1600 of a second. 

I followed this little Palm Warbler around and was rewarded with a couple of nice shots of it eating a dragonfly. I changed the aperture in this shot to F7.1 because I wanted a little more depth of field. This forced me to reduce my shutter speed even more.

The Nikon D500 is a very versatile camera that can easily keep up with these tiny little birds even when they are choking down a large dragonfly.

This next shot is an Ovenbird, (Seiurus aurocapillus) and it didn't stick around for very long. The Ovenbird is known to forage for insects on the ground and that is exactly what this one was doing.

This is the Blackpoll Warbler, (Setophaga striata) and I literally had about one second to grab this image before this tiny little bird disappeared. I used Single Point Auto-focus, put the single point on the bird's head and the camera focused through all those branches and allowed me to capture this awesome shot even though the bird was deep in shadow. 

The Blackpoll Warbler is tiny! It weighs just under half an ounce or 14 grams. But do you know what makes this little bird so cool other than its good looks? It travels almost 1800 miles or 2800 kilometers nonstop over the ocean. They fly at a speed of around 27 miles per hour or 43 kilometers per hour. This means that this little bird flies for over 80 hours straight! That's over 3 days with no food, no water and no sleep! That is absolutely incredible!

South Florida is also home to invasive iguanas. I'll never pass up an opportunity to take pictures of reptiles.  These are awesome looking lizards. 

Check out this little Black and White Warbler, (Mniotilta varia.) This was yet another first for me. This bird was extremely busy and it was looking under all of that tree bark for some food. I watched this bird for a little while and managed to get one good shot before it disappeared.

Then I came across this white bird resting under the shade of the trees. I'm not too sure if this is a dove or a pigeon. I also don't know if this bird was an escapee from a zoo or a lost pet because I don't think this was a wild bird. There is no doubt about one thing though. This is a beautiful bird and I managed to get a nice shot of it. I used a slower shutter speed of 1/640 of a second because the bird was sitting still. This allowed me to get a lot more light on the subject.

This was my favorite warbler of the day. This is the Cape May Warbler, (Setophaga tigrina.) You will only find this bird in Florida during migration. I really like the colors on this bird and how they fit so well with that blue sky in the background. 

In this series of shots, the bird was eating this little red berry. That is where I focused. You'll notice the lower half of the bird isn't in perfect focus in these shots. That's because I was using an aperture of F6.3. If I had chosen an aperture of F8, I would have been a little better because I would have had a wider depth of field.

The last shot from this trip is this cool shot looking out over the beautiful blue water. This shot looks more like something you would see in California along the Pacific Coast but this was the south side of Fort Zachary Taylor state park in Key West

(Mark Smith Photography) 200-500mm 2017 aurocapillus birding d500 florida fort keys migration nikkor nikon ovenbird palm palmarum park photography seiurus setophaga spring state taylor warbler wildlife zachary Fri, 27 Oct 2017 15:42:54 GMT
Nikon Stuck or Frozen Focus Points Quick Fix

If you know your way around a Nikon camera body, then you might not find this post useful. However, If you are new to Nikon, and you find that the focus points you see through the viewfinder are frozen or stuck, DON'T PANIC! Your camera is most likely just fine. 

Frozen focus points happen a lot more often than you might think and I know the first time it happened to me, I was in a complete and total state of panic. 

You have most likely just accidentally activated “Focus Point Lock.” No problem. Here's how you fix the frozen focus point problem. 

Change the rocker switch on the back of the camera from L to the white dot. The video above illustrates the perfect way to achieve this. That's it! It really is that simple.

If that doesn't fix your frozen focus points, then try a hard reboot. Turn off your camera. Remove the battery. Brew a cup of coffee or tea. Replace the battery. Turn on your camera and try again. If the focus points are still frozen or stuck, then your Nikon camera might be in need of service!

(Mark Smith Photography) focus frozen nikon photography points stuck system Fri, 27 Oct 2017 14:14:51 GMT
5 Facepalm Worthy Mistakes EVERY Photographer Makes and How to Avoid Them

I was recently thinking about how I could help every single new photographer on the planet. This required lots of thinking....I realized my brain power wasn't quite enough to accomplish this task so I got together with some of my photographer friends and asked them this question. What is the most ridiculous mistake you made when you started photography?

After a few frothy pints of ale at Ye Old Secret Photography Pub, we came up with this list of five face palm worthy common mistakes every new photographer has made. I bet you've made at least one of these mistakes. Me, I can proudly say I've made them all.

If you are just dipping your toes into that great big photography ocean, then you can learn from these mistakes. Trust me, learning from these mistakes by reading this short post is much better than making them out there in that great big world of ours.

Drum roll please! Facepalm Mistake Number One!

Always bring your camera with you! Once in a lifetime photo opportunities are always unexpected! You never know when you will see the greatest photo opportunity of your life. Make sure you have your camera with you. I recently had to join Bigfoot Anonymous because I forgot to bring my camera.

Facepalm Mistake Number 2. 

Always double check that your memory card is actually in your camera. You don't now how many times I've grabbed my camera, lined up the perfect shot pressed the shutter button only to find out I left my memory card at home!

Oh while you're at it, make sure you have a spare memory card in your camera bag or your pocket. This has saved me more times than I can count. 

Facepalm Mistake number 3

Always check your camera battery before you leave the house and while you are at it, make sure you have plenty of spares that are charged! Battery drain is a real problem. 

Facepalm Mistake number 4

Get rid of the lens cap! Well, don't get rid of it entirely. Just remove it before you get out of your car. This one took me a while to get used to. I always want to leave the lens cap on to protect the front element of the lens but now I take it off and stuff it in my pocket as soon as I get out of the car.

Facepalm Mistake Number 5

Always take the shot! 

There are tons of ways to improve your photography but there is one simple thing that most new photographers seem to forget. I made this a rule for myself years ago and I have managed to stick with it. I would highly suggest that you do the same. Always take the shot.

This one rather simple rule will help you in more ways than you could imagine. Hesitation and photography do not mix well. The word hesitation by definition means you are unsure of yourself. Don't be. Photography is an art form and art in its most basic sense is freedom of expression. You can't have true freedom with hesitation. 

Most of us have heard this very popular saying, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Now apply this same logic to photography.

It is better to have taken the shot than never have taken the shot at all.

What's the worst thing that could happen? You end up with a shot that is out of focus, has bad lighting or an awkward pose? So what. All of those things are common mistakes that you can use to your advantage. You can't be expected to learn if you don't make mistakes. 

On the other hand, what's the best thing that could happen? You could very well end up with the shot of a lifetime! 

Always take the shot!

(Mark Smith Photography) beginners common for mistakes nikon photography wildlife Fri, 27 Oct 2017 13:30:39 GMT
Nikkor 200mm-500mm - Birds In Flight Performance - Roseate Spoonbills One Big Alligator I take my Nikon D500 and my new Nikkor 200mm-500mm to the Stickmarsh and test performance on birds in flight. How did this combo perform? Unbelievable good! 

(Mark Smith Photography) 200mm-500mm birds d500 flight florida in long nesting nikkor nikon photography roseate spoonbill spoonbills stickmarsh telephoto wildlife Tue, 04 Apr 2017 21:17:32 GMT
Lazy Wildlife / Birding Photography Viera Wetlands Florida Nikon 200-500mm Low Light I take my new Nikon 200-500mm out to Viera Wetlands, a very popular birding location in south Florida to see how it performs in less than ideal photography conditions. It was overcast and raining for much of the trip but the Nikon 200-500 paired with the Nikon D500 worked perfectly!

All images were captured with the Nikon D500 and the Nikon 200-500mm. Shaky video captured using a gopro session 5. Awesome high res non-shaky video captured with the Nikon D500 with the nd the Nikon 200-500mm lens.

(Mark Smith Photography) 200-500 birding blue d500 eagle great heron nikon osprey photography wildlife Fri, 24 Mar 2017 17:43:43 GMT
Nikon D500 - Chasing Endangered Snail Kites - Wildlife Photography I head back to the waste water treatment plant in search of endangered Snail Kites and as usual, I find much more. The Snail Kites were nice enough to stop and pose countless times for me and my camera. What an incredible experience.

All images were captured with the Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm lens V1. Shaky video captured using a gopro session 5. Awesome high res non-shaky video captured with the Nikon D500 with the Tamron 150-600 mm lens.

The Nikon D500 is one impressive camera!

(Mark Smith Photography) 150-600mm d500 kites nikon otters photography snail tamron wildlife Mon, 20 Mar 2017 21:40:14 GMT
Nikon D500 - Birds, Birds and More Birds - Video Sample Too! I go back to the waste water treatment plant in search of nesting Sandhill Cranes and I find much more. Red Winged Blackbirds, Boat Tailed Grackles, Common Yellow Warbler, Black Capped Night Heron and loads of endangered Snail Kites.

(Mark Smith Photography) 150-600 Black Blackbirds Boat Capped Common Cranes Grackles Heron Kites Night Red Sandhill Snail Tailed Tamron Warbler Winged Yellow birding d500 mm nikon Sun, 05 Mar 2017 15:06:03 GMT
Nikon D500 South Florida Birding Extravaganza Find out why nature photography is fun, exciting and unpredictable. Join me at a waste water treatment plant in South Florida where I put my Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600 mm V1 to the test. We went looking for Sandhill Cranes but found so much more. How did the Nikon D500 / Tamron 150-600mm do? Watch the entire video to find out!

(Mark Smith Photography) birding d500 florida nikon photography wildlife Sun, 26 Feb 2017 18:20:30 GMT
Lions, Tigers and People Oh My! - Tampa's Big Cat Rescue This time last year I found myself at the bottom of a 250 foot gorge watching women ascend massive chunks of ice at the Ouray Ice Park in Colorado. If you were to tell me that a year later I would find myself in Tampa Florida at Big Cat Rescue taking pictures of lions, tigers, leopards, bobcats and more, I would have said, "That's not gonna happen."  This just proves that I have no psychic powers whatsoever. No wonder I never seem to win the Lotto.

The Journey to Big Cat Rescue
This opportunity, like many of life's grand adventures came to me from out of the blue and in order to take full advantage of this opportunity, I would have to sit behind the wheel of my Jeep and traverse the roads of Florida for three hours. Most people loathe the idea of driving more than 20 minutes. Me? I knew there was a bright big rainbow at the end of this journey. 

For those of you who have never driven across the state of Florida, it has an interesting topography. It's mostly flat and mostly below sea level. In the early morning hours dense fog banks cling to the grass as spectral palm trees rise from the mist. 

As I step out of my vehicle to capture this image my mind wanders to the classic horror movie, “American Werewolf in London" where two eager backpackers were warned to “Stay off the moors!” Was there something moving in the fog just outside of my field of view? I reach for my zoom lens to get a better view and the voice of reason whispers, “Get back in your Jeep, you idiot.” I wrestle with the idea and then the  voice of my son chimes in, “Get back in the Jeep, you idiot.” 

This time I listen and quickly scramble through the wet grass back to the Jeep. I had managed to wander a good 50 feet from the safety of my vehicle. Was there something following me? Of course there was! Life would be boring if “things” weren't always following me through the misty fog. 

Let the Tour Begin!
I consider myself lucky. I have had some great opportunities in life and they just keep coming. My trip to Big Cat Rescue was no different. To say that it was fantastic would be an understatement. To say that it was incredible is also not fair. Have you ever sat within 30 feet of a full grown male lion while he told the world who was boss by roaring for about 45 seconds? Chilling is a good word for this humbling moment because I could feel the hair on the back of my neck start to stand up as goose pimples rose on my arms. A worthy finale to any tour but the rest of the tour was equally as impressive.

As we moved through the sanctuary eagerly spying on tigers, bobcats and leopards something that I had never considered started to become very apparent to me and my faith in humanity went up about five notches. Not solely because of how well the big cats are treated but mostly because of the dedication that goes into keeping these cats happy and healthy. The Big Cats are the main attraction here but the people who run this place are the real stars.

Volunteers from all over the world dedicate their lives to helping these big cats. There are two words in that sentence that you should take special note of, volunteers and dedicate. Not many people volunteer their time let alone their lives to helping animals in need. The people at Big Cat Rescue are heroes in my book and I am very happy to have met them and their big cats.

Thank you Mark, Chuck, Trundy and Katie for taking us on this awesome tour, treating us like family and sharing your passion for these impressive big cats! I can now cross one more item off of my bucket list.

(Mark Smith Photography) animal big bobcat cat conservation florida lion photography rescue tampa tiger Tue, 21 Feb 2017 16:31:00 GMT
Massive Monster Banyan Tree When I first saw this massive Banyan tree, I was amazed by its incredible size. I had to find a way to show everyone what I saw. I walked around the tree for a few weeks trying to determine the best way to capture its enormous girth.

On my second visit I noticed a lush green palm tree trapped in the middle. Like some kind of giant monster, this Banyan tree has slowly devoured the poor defenseless palm, its maze of roots slowly constricting the palm tree like a group of ruthless serpents. I decided to wait for nightfall to see if the monster tree came to life under the eerie glow of the moon and it did.

Imagine being able to see this tree grow from a seed to where it is now in a time lapse. It would look like a giant monster with massive tentacles as it ate the poor defenseless palm tree. Maybe monsters do exist. Wasn't there a person sitting on the now vacant park bench when I pressed the shutter release on my camera?

(Mark Smith Photography) banyan florida nightscape palm tree Tue, 17 Jan 2017 12:41:11 GMT
Bottlenose Dolphin Catches Mullet in Mid-Air Lions, tigers and cheetahs are often considered the great hunters of the animal world, but they have nothing on the mighty dolphin. Watching a dolphin isolate one fish and herd it into shallow water is absolutely incredible. It starts with a small wake on the surface of the water as the dolphin lunges towards the fish. The chase is on! The fish relies on instinct as panic sends it jumping feverishly out of the water. The true nature of what is about to happen makes itself perfectly clear. As soon as the fish hits the water, the dolphin is waiting and this is where things get interesting. The dolphin, using its blunt nose smacks the fish and sends it flying back into the air. The fish now stunned and near its end falls back into the open mouth of the dolphin. Dolphin 1 - Mullet 0. An absolutely amazing sight to behold.

(Mark Smith Photography) Indian Lagoon River bottlenose dolphin florida mullet predator Sun, 01 Jan 2017 12:04:45 GMT
Sea Lions, Dolphins and Whales Oh My! Every once in a while that beautiful temptress known as “the ocean” calls my name and like a man who is head over heels in love, I blindly answer her call. The ocean is a magical place. Anyone who has had the sheer pleasure of seeing where the land meets the sea knows this. The way the sand caresses your bare feet. The way the fresh ocean breeze blows through your hair. The way that magical salty water transforms even the oldest person into a small child. 

Yes, I love the ocean and pretty much anything related to it. so when the opportunity to “look for whales” in the breathtaking blue waters of the mighty Pacific Ocean presented itself to me, I decided it was my civic duty to take this extremely challenging and dangerous job so that you could experience it as well. The things I do for others. Heavy Sigh....That's a little bit of sarcasm.

As we slowly floated out of the safety of the harbor, a small group of sea lions slowly rose out of the water. Like synchronized swimmers, they all stick their flippers out of the water and slowly wave to us.

Sea LionsSea LionsSea Lions How nice of them to wave goodbye to us, I thought. Was that laughter I could hear? Were the sea lions laughing at us? No, that would be the gulls flying overhead. Why were they laughing and why were the sea lions waving goodbye? Did these experienced ocean dwelling creatures know something I didn't? Would this trip have me finding the infamous Davey Jones Locker? There are plenty of Great White Sharks (doll's eyes)  in the Pacific and the area we were in was also a well known hunting ground for the impressive Orca Whale. Hmm, maybe I went too far this time. Ah, who am I kidding. This was a fantastic opportunity to see some awesome marine life! Bring on the whales!

Peering down into the deep yet surprisingly clear blue waters has a way of making time move at a different pace. The constant rise and fall of the sea adds to the hypnotizing affect. We pitched and rolled with the sea. Thank goodness I earned my sea legs a long time ago. Those 8-10 foot swells were causing a little bit of seasickness among the other people on the boat. A few unlucky folks were busy feeding the fish at the back of the boat if you know what I mean. 

With camera ready, I patiently waited to see some marine life and I didn't need to wait long either. A large pod of dolphins decided to join us. A huge smile formed on my face as the dolphins played in the wake of the boat. I was so thrilled, I didn't dare take my eyes off them. I completely forgot the giant camera lens dangling from my neck!

Like good stewards, the dolphins led us to our first group of gray whales. The first whale spout appears about 100 feet from the boat. The hum and vibration of the boat engines stops as the boat captain powers down the motors. 

We are now slowly drifting towards two large gray whales. I raise my zoom lens to get a closer look at these incredible animals. I can easily see them just below the surface of the water. I try to keep calm. I have to remain cool. Nope, that's not happening. I can't contain myself. I am smiling and laughing. Those simple things called “words” manage to vanish from my brain.

I open my mouth to say something and one of the gray whales rises out of the water. Its huge barnacle covered head is now looking right at me. Once again, I foolishly try to form words and nothing happens. I do manage to fire off a few shots before the giant slowly sinks below the surface of the ocean. There are definitely no words in the English language to describe this moment.

Gray WhaleGray WhaleGray Whale Immediately after this moment, we find ourselves surrounded by Risso Doplhins. They are everywhere, hundreds of them and once again words manage to escape me but my right index finger is busy snapping pictures. 

Risso DolphinRisso Dolphin Risso DolphinRisso Dolphin We are not done yet. Two more gray whales join the party. The amount of marine life is astonishing. I'm not sure if the gray whales were saying goodbye or not, but one of them managed to wave goodbye with a tale flipper. 

Gray Whale Tail FinGray Whale Tail FinGray Whale Tail Fin On the way in we are greeted by a mother Sea Otter who has a baby on her chest. Unbelievable. 

Sea Otter With BabySea Otter With BabySea Otter With Baby Let's not forget the world's proudest sea lion. Look at this guy. He couldn't look anymore smug!

Sea LionSea LionSea Lion What make the perfect ending to such an incredible day exploring the beautiful Pacific ocean? How about this incredible sunset?

California SunsetCalifornia SunsetCalifornia Sunset Yes, I can easily say I love the ocean. Who could blame me?

(Mark Smith Photography) big california coast grey lion otter sea sunset sur whale Wed, 23 Mar 2016 19:54:41 GMT
Finding Life In Death Valley During Super Bloom 2016 When you hear the term “Death Valley,” what comes to mind? I always envisioned a huge arid landscape filled with nothing more than sand, the classic wavering look of a heat wave on the horizon, the unmistakable sound of a hawk somewhere above me, a few ancient bleached cattle skulls scattered around the landscape and the eerie sound of a Mojave rattlesnake subtly warning me of its deadly bite. 

The landscape that slowly unfolded around me did look like an arid wasteland. It was alien, strange and varied in color from tan to dark red with the occasional hint of golden yellow. 

Death Valley HillsDeath Valley HillsDeath Valley Hills The color green was absent from this color palette. The ancient dead  trees reminded me of old skeletons. A distant memory of what life might have been like thousands of years ago when dinosaurs roamed the land. 

Death Valley Dead TreesDeath Valley Dead TreesDeath Valley Dead Trees My ill conceived idea of Death Valley was about to be ripped from my mind and replaced with something vibrant and beautiful. There was life in Death Valley and the first sign of it came from this small group of flowers boldly rising from the hot sand in stark contrast to the world around it. Each soft colored petal reaching towards the sun like tiny human hands and exclaiming, “Life Prevails!” 

Death Valley Super BloomDeath Valley Super BloomDeath Valley Super Bloom I had to become part of this! With camera in hand, I laid down in the sand next to the flowers and stared up at the sun.

Death Valley Super BloomDeath Valley Super BloomDeath Valley Super Bloom The few moments I shared with those little flowers were brief but incredible. What can I say? I really like flowers. I love what they stand for, their color, beauty and their role in nature to reproduce and carry on. An excellent example of Mother Nature doing her finest work!

Death Valley Super BloomDeath Valley Super BloomDeath Valley Super Bloom Ah, but that small group of flowers was nothing compared to what I would find next. I noticed the mountains in the distance had a strange yellow hue that started at their base and ran down through the valley like little speckles of yellow paint. Could all that wonderful color be coming from an entire valley filled with thousands of golden flowers? Yes it could. I was lucky enough to be here during a “super bloom.” 

Death Valley Super BloomDeath Valley Super BloomDeath Valley Super Bloom Heavy rains from the previous fall had flooded entire areas of  the valley. Each and every place where water ran down the side of the mountains and into the valley floor was now overflowing with an amazing group of wildflowers. Incredible!

I tiptoed through the valley, careful not to step on any of these rare blooming flowers. I wanted to get in there with these little beauties. Once you were in there with the flowers, it was easy to see how everything originated.  The flowers were only growing in dry washes. (Areas where water once flowed. )You could follow each little river of flowers as it randomly snaked its way through the valley back towards to mountains where the water began so many months earlier. It was a living painted that only nature could create and I was lucky enough to be standing right in the middle of it! 

Death Valley Super BloomDeath Valley Super BloomDeath Valley Super Bloom



(Mark Smith Photography) 2016 bloom death flowers super valley wild Wed, 16 Mar 2016 18:35:49 GMT
California Orchards In Bloom You never know when a great photo opportunity will make itself known. Not having a camera with you is a great way to miss these one of kind opportunities. Driving through the California countryside brought one such opportunity to me. The orchards were in full bloom and they presented the perfect fairy tale backdrop photograph.

California OrchardsCalifornia OrchardsCalifornia Orchards

(Mark Smith Photography) bloom california flowers orchards Mon, 07 Mar 2016 14:26:49 GMT
Ice Climbing Adventure at Ouray Ice Park With Nikon D810 In Tow Life is an adventure. Ice Climbing at the Ouray Ice Park is the perfect example. What? You've never strapped crampons to the bottom of your feet, tangled a harness around your torso, strapped a helmet to your melon and descended 200 feet into an ice covered rocky gorge? Maybe it was more than 200 feet. I didn't bother to take measurements as we descended the ice covered rocks through the gorge. What I did notice was the absolute beauty that unfolded around us. It was kind of hard to ignore.

Entering the Ouray Ice ParkEntering the Ouray Ice ParkEntering the Ouray Ice Park

The Descent

Ouray Ice Park DescentOuray Ice Park DescentOuray Ice Park Descent We made our way down one at a time through ice, rock and aspen trees. A rope hooked to our harness just in case our crampons weren't enough to prevent the casual slip that could easily result in a broken bone or twelve. A rope with rope handles provided plenty of support as we made our way down. A few trees were nice enough to lend their branches for handles and their roots for a nice steady foothold or two. The gorge slowly reveals its beauty with each cautious step down its icy side. Once we made it to the bottom, a simple plank of wood makes for the perfect bridge over the icy water below. A fall into this river is not going to kill you but it would most likely ruin your day being that the water temps are close to freezing. Mimicking circus performing trapeze artists, we all manage to walk the plank without a single incident. 

Walking the PlankWalking the PlankWalking the Plank

The other side of the plank gives us our first look at the ice covered wall which from the bottom of the gorge looks pretty damn intimidating, but none of the climbers bat an eye lash at the large chunk of ice before them.

Ouray Ice ParkOuray Ice ParkOuray Ice Park

The Group

You might be wondering how I managed to arrive at this location. I love to take pictures! When Chicks With Picks invited me to come along on one of their awesome outings, I couldn't refuse! Who would? Chicks With Picks empowers women through mountain sport. Ice climbing is one of their specialties. Dawn, the guide for the day would be leading four ladies on the climb and I must say these ladies scaled that icy wall like it was nothing. It was an incredible site to behold as each one of them rose to the challenge and conquered the icy behemoth. 

Dawn from Chicks With Picks In RedDawn from Chicks With Picks In RedDawn from Chicks With Picks In Red

One swing of an ice ax and a swift kick with a crampon covered boot gave them enough leverage to scale the side of the gorge. Teamwork at its finest as one lady became the Belay (A friction enhancing device which prevents the climber from falling.) while the other lady ascended the glorious ice.

Belay on the leftBelay on the leftBelay on the left

Wow, what an incredible feat of human strength and endurance, and I was lucky enough to come along for the ride and do what I really enjoy, take pictures!

Ouray Ice ParkOuray Ice ParkOuray Ice Park Ouray Ice ParkOuray Ice ParkOuray Ice Park

Camera used: Nikon D810

Lenses Used: Nikon 20mm F1.8, Nikon 70-200mm F4


(Mark Smith Photography) climbing colorado d810 ice nikon ouray park Mon, 22 Feb 2016 19:02:41 GMT
Why Take Pictures of Birds? I am a sucker for taking pictures. I will takes pictures of just about anything. A good percentage of these pictures gets deleted but at least I am out there taking pictures. One of my favorite things to photograph would have to be birds. I can remember taking pictures of birds back when I was a little kid. My dad had a Minolta with a zoom lens. This was back in the days of film. He loaded me up with film and let me fire away. I took pictures of anything and everything, especially birds.


One of the great things about bird photography is having the ability to get really close to a bird. With a good sharp photograph, you can see every detail that you might not have been able to see in the wild. As I am sure you know, most birds don't like it when you stick your nose in their business. Getting close enough to see these amazing details with the naked eye is almost impossible. That's where photography comes in. One shot let's you, me or anyone else in the world get that special close up view.


Here is a good example. Here are a couple of Northern Flickers I shot on Valentine's Day. Look at the detail on these birds!

Northern FlickersNorthern FlickersNorthern Flickers

(Mark Smith Photography) avian bird birds colorado flickers montrose northern photography Wed, 17 Feb 2016 15:05:49 GMT