The Nuts And Bolts Of Feathered Photography

Four days ago I received the following message from Muffy S. Gately, a regular follower of Feathered Photography on Facebook.

  • “I don’t know whether you have ever done a blog about your process, or you thought about it and dismissed the idea as stupid, but I suspect that I may not be the only reader who would be interested. E.g., how do you prepare for your birding outings? What do you take? When do you go through your photos? Do you write your blog while looking at the pics or not until later? Do you work best in the evening after supper or in the morning or just after you get home? Do you know what your topic will be before you write, or does it emerge on the fly?  (So to speak) Just an idea. You may think it’s either dumb or intrusive, in which case, please disregard it.”

Muffy’s request planted a seed in my mind that has since germinated (after considerable pondering) so today’s post will be an attempt to fill in some of the blanks that she and possibly others have wondered about. Since there won’t be a bird or even a feather to be found in today’s edition it will likely have limited appeal but there may be a few others with curiosity about some of these things so I decided to go with it.

I hope everyone else will bear with me…


This might be called the Feathered Photography “business office” (I posted this photo previously in a post where I was toasting and thanking my readers). Its primary components are four computers and my bird and natural history reference library. This is where I review, cull, edit and process my images and where I compose my blog posts. Without hyperbole I can say I’ve experienced both immense anguish and incredible joy while sitting at this desk.

Here’s my typical process:

  • Usually I do my first review of any new images of the day soon after I get home from a photo trip in the late morning (I don’t cull daily so the number of images to cull builds up over time until it becomes a royal pain in the butt). Then I move on to whatever the rest of my day holds in store but whatever it might be I’m often thinking about what I might post the following morning.
  • Then at 5 p.m. (I’m the poster child for “creature of habit” so it’s always about the same time) I sit down at my desk, often with a stiff drink in hand, to make the final decision about what images I’ll post in the morning. Once I’ve chosen them they’re processed and then imported into the draft version of my blog. I also add image techs at that point. This process typically takes about two hours and then it’s time to fix dinner, eat, relax while watching a little PBS (I’m allergic to watching news on TV these days…) and then hit the sack.
  • Depending on the time of year and the possibility of going shooting that morning (determined by weather and light) I’m usually out of bed between 3:30 and 4:30 a.m. and I almost immediately begin composing the text of my post. Writing is difficult for me so I spend a lot of time with the original composition and then proofreading and editing what I’ve written. On mornings when I make more mistakes, typos and grammatical errors than usual it’s likely because I was rushed for time. This morning process usually takes about an hour and a half to two hours and then I’m ready to publish. Typically I publish between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m. Mountain Time but it can be later than that during winter and earlier in summer.

But only part of the process of Feathered Photography occurs in my “business office”.



The rest of it occurs in my “field office”, my 2014 Ford Ecoboost F-150 pickup. Here you see all of my essentials for morning shooting:

  • My Canon 7D Mark II mounted on my 500mm F/4 lens with attached teleconverter
  • My handy-dandy homemade lens caddy that I’ve modified many times over almost 10 years to fit various vehicles. I love that caddy!
  • A large cup of coffee
  • A chocolate donut (I know they’re not healthy but hey, I only eat them on mornings when I go shooting…)
  • Milk (with ice of course) to wash the donut down
  • My phone. I need it to get blog comment emails and so I can keep tabs on what’s going on with Feathered Photography while I’m in the field

I used to keep my lens caddy mounted on top of my center console with the console in the down position but there wasn’t enough shock absorption in the console for the extremely rough dirt roads I’m so often on so it’s now mounted on the more cushioned seat.

Gotta tell you about this donut. I took this photo yesterday morning just as I arrived at the causeway to Antelope Island. By the time I got to the causeway I was so damned hungry I could have eaten the south end of a northbound skunk (I couldn’t eat it before I had a chance to take the photo). The donut was half gone immediately after the photo was taken and that’s the truth!



Here’s most (but not all) of the additional photo gear I have at ready access while I’m in the field. It includes:

  • A second 7D Mark II attached to my Canon 100-400mm lens
  • The 7D and “normal” lens I’m using to take this photo so you can’t see it here
  • A spare 7D body in case something goes wrong with one of the other cameras
  • A video camera with a 500mm lens that I seldom use because I learned that I’d rather have stills than video

And yes, my pickup is usually dirty, inside and out. When you’re shooting on rough/dusty/muddy/snowy roads it comes with the territory. I’ve learned to live with it.

So, that about covers it. If I’ve bored you to tears with all this text and no birds I apologize (if you’ve even made it this far). But I must admit I’ve had fun writing this post so for me all was not lost.

Thanks for the inspiration, Muffy!


PS – One more thing (I can’t quit…)

If you have a regular shooting companion as I do with Mia it’s a very good idea to avoid ruining their photo-ops and pissing them off. Mia shoots from the back seat and we both use a “noodle” on our windows as a lens rest. As the driver I have door lock and window controls on all four doors. When we pull up on a bird I’m usually in a rush to do all the things I have to do before firing off the first shot – turn the engine off, put the transmission in park, grab my lens and adjust my window to the right height etc before the bird flies off. Very often, in my haste, my finger hits the wrong window control and it’s her window that goes up or down instead of mine. You can imagine her frustration when I’ve jarred her lens just as the bird poses beautifully and then takes off before she can adjust her window to make up for my mistake.


So this was the solution – a piece of duct tape over her window control so I can’t adjust that window from up front. It’s worked perfectly for years now and we’re both happier for it. Mia has always been a good sport about my screwups but I know how I’d have felt with the roles reversed. After all, good images of birds don’t come easy…


PSS – After I posted this morning Muffy wrote and asked that I include a close-up of my bird and nature “library”. I was on my way out the door to go shooting so I told her I’d add one after I got home.


I’ve made the image 1200 pixels on the long side so titles might me a little easier to read. There are many others but this is all that will fit on this shelf and these are the ones I use most often. As you can see some of them are well worn.


96 comments to The Nuts And Bolts Of Feathered Photography

  • Hi Ron:

    I enjoyed the post a lot! I am still jealous of your handmade cradle – I can barely hold my 5D MIII with the 500mm and 1.4X on it, let alone pick it up off the passenger side floor quickly enough to get a shot off! As for the donut… I won’t comment, other than to say that if you are going to eat donuts, at least you are including 5 of the 4 major food groups.. chocolate, more chocolate, chocolate covering, chocolate and chocolate….

    A comment for your readers, in response to Art’s comment about whittling down the images in the field (and you are probably aware of this): aside from any considerations of selecting images viewed only on the camera LCD screen, culling in the field usually means deleting individual images in the camera. Lexar, SanDisk and other major manufacturers STRONGLY discourage EVER doing that: it leads to an increased frequency of card corruption and image loss. Deleting files may remove the actual image (although we know that not to be entirely true either, since you can often recover deleted images), but it also leaves all the metadata on the card, which “confuses” the electronics with the superimposition of new metadata. They all strongly recommend that the only way to remove images from the card should be to Format the card in the camera before using it again – not by deleting images. Formatting resets everything and gives you a clean slate (…card) to work with, and is recommended even for an empty card if you use it in a different camera – I reformat every time I put a card in any camera.

    I don’t comment much, but always enjoy your posts.


    • Exactly, Roberta. The issue you describe is one of two reason I never chimp and always reformat. Personally, these days with huge and relatively cheap memory cards I see no reason to chimp.

  • Tim Estrada

    Easily one of my favorite posts.
    I’m a relentless DYI and How to Guy….loved the insight.


  • Art

    I too enjoyed seeing your routine. Once I am retired (4.4 years) I may be able to keep waking up at my current 5:00 to shoot at the golden hour but it will be touch and go. I am not a very good morning person and when left to my own devices on the weekend often sleep until 8 or even 9!

    SInce you brought it up here are a couple of other questions I have been meaning to pose:

    1) When you shoot so much, especially at 10fps, do you “chimp” and cull in the field often and at a high percentage?
    2) What is your workflow when importing? Do you just plug your card into the ‘puter and import all the images into LightRoom and then go through them or do you try and pre-prune before importing? I find importing all into LR and then marking them for deletion and deleting them all at once in a first pass is working but that not well. I am not used to taking quite so many in my normal landscape photography.
    3) Your LR collection/database must be massive. I have to cull mine to a separate storage about every two years to keep the database size down and the LR performance acceptable. So how often do you break up your LR collection and how?
    4) Do you ever sell any prints?

    • Art,
      1. No, I never chimp in the field.
      2. I just import all the images into my organizer and then start reviewing and culling.
      3. I delete over 90% of my images so my “collection” probably doesn’t build up as fast as you might think.
      4. I sell prints on request but I don’t push print sales. I prefer to sell to publishers. Prints are a pain in the caboose. I do this mostly for fun, not to make a living.

  • Diane Bricmont

    Late to the party, Ron, but thanks for a wonderful, behind-the-scenes look at your routine. Did I detect a faint catch-light on that donut? Seriously, thanks for sharing so much of your self with all of us every day!

    • Ha, that catch-light comment of yours rings a bell with this old teacher, Diane. When things teachers harangue on stick with our students/readers it always brings a tinge of satisfaction…

  • D.Gusset

    Thank you Ron! Love your caddy 🙂

  • April Olson

    Great blog still smiling from the humor. From all the response you received I would say it was popular, but you will have to spend all day responding to all the comments. Too beautiful of a day to spend it all indoors.

  • Gary Dunning

    Pleased to learn of your schedule and routines which I’ve been curious to know. Reminds me of William Herschel and Caroline. I suspect Mia’s captured worthy images too and hope they are shared when possible.

    Ron, I’m concerned for your well being. Surviving on a chocolate ‘gut bomb’ and coffee ’till your pre-dinner libation and so much windshield time portends unwelcome difficulty. May I suggest more coffee, Much more, and supplement the donut with chocolate biscotti – as many as possible (I’m fond of Trader Joe’s Mini). Then while vegging out on PBS use a stationary bike or elliptical for cardio. condition. Btw fruit: apples quartered and cored, raisins, nuts, oranges = fine snacks. Your blog kicks my day off in the best possible way. Like the rest of your admirers, we look forward to another 30 or 40 years.

    Many thanks Gary

  • Kent Patrick-Riley

    Gee, I always thought you had Samantha from Bewitched over for drinks and she’d just twitch her nose for you and it just came together everyday1

    I am more than amazed at the consistent exceptional quality of both your photos and discussions. A huge thanks for your daily dedication and generosity in sharing the images and discussions. Inspiring for all of us.

  • Ron:
    Late to respond, but today’s blog was great! Thank you!

  • Thank you.
    It is always nice to be given a window into your world.
    The blogosphere becomes family I find…

  • Judy Champ

    Thank you Muffy for asking the questions that a lot of us have wondered! I found it very interesting Ron to find out about your daily routines! Thanks so much for sharing!! Judy

  • Levi V.

    That was very fun for me to read actually!
    But I have to say I was very surprised (and even felt a little bad for you) at how much time each blog post takes! But the outcome is worth it for all your readers. And plus, you wouldn’t do it if you didn’t enjoy it.

  • Len Boeder

    What a great blog!!! Thank you for sharing.

  • Love this blog, Ron! I’m on a diet so I envy your chocolate donut. I’ve always liked your setup in the car which is super cool. Maybe a lot of people would like to buy your lens caddy invention. I can relate on why you said it’s enjoyable to write this blog.

    • “Maybe a lot of people would like to buy your lens caddy invention”

      I’ve thought about that possibility, Tin but each caddy is complicated to make and must be individualized to some degree to the vehicle and the camera/lens combination. I’d be lost without my lens caddy!

  • Well, I’m going to join the long line of folks who think this post is great and enjoyed seeing a bit about your process. As a writer, I am always interested the people’s creative processes and this was no exception. I’m a bit jealous of the time you get to go out into your “field office” on photo shoots – especially with chocolate donuts!

  • Marty K

    Loved the peek into “a day in the life!” You are incredibly generous with your time, information, and talent! Besides, there’s a flying owl in the first shot. Thanks also to Muffy for her question. I’m impressed that the donut made it as long as it did; if it were mine, I’d be taking pictures of the remnants. 😛

    (BTW, your desk is waaaaaaay too clean for a science teacher! 😉 )

    • There were no remnants, Marty. I even pick the crumbs off my shirt and eat them when I’m that hungry!

      Your last sentence made me LOL because I’m looking at my desk right now and it’s a mess. I cleaned it up for that photo…

  • Susan aka blue

    Because as creator, storyteller, teacher, and photographer, you (and Mia :)) are part of this blog, I LOVED this chapter tremendously…so thanks Ron for filling us in, and thank you Muffy, for planting the seed for this sidebar episode!
    PS. An idle question I’ve had is how much driving do you do from home on a typical excursion…? 🙂

    • I do a LOT of driving, Susan. This morning it was 250 miles round trip (including miles put on at the site). But that’s one of the furthest of my shooting destinations. Most of them are about half that.

  • jake schas

    Ron,the techie stuff is my “chocolate” icing for your blog. I do have to adjust you tech stuff a bit to fit my 40d/100-400. It all helps to make a better photo(grapher). When I see you photos, I say “what did Ron do to get that”? Such as your Prairie Falcon after takeoff a few days ago. I did say that it was a bit off. Then you explained the cropping.

    Culling photos is my biggest pain in the photo-but. When I get the mark ii later this summer, I may be in culling hell.


    • When you move to the Mark 11 from the 40D it will be a big jump, Jake. You’ll feel like you’re shooting a machine gun and you’re right – culling will become even more of a chore!

    • Dick Harlow

      Jake, I have to echo Ron! I have a 5D MK III, and unfortunately I use the excuse to cull during the winter! Big mistake! I’m still behind – who says you stop shooting in the winter? That is why I’m way behind, plus I have set rules, otherwise I’d overload my hard drive!

      • jake schas

        Dick, I am still behind on last summers photos. I to was to cull them this past winter. I worked two jobs and the winter in my part of Oregon kept me shoveling snow and more snow. Now I am back in the field working and taking more photos. I do look forward to the Mark ii. I have culling rules—somewhere.

  • Linda

    Great post! Thanks for sharing more of your world with us. It’s so enjoyable getting a glimpse of the person behind the camera.

  • Trudy Brooks

    Not bored by your pictures or posts. They are very interesting and nice to look at your daily life. You really don’t have much free time for important things like eating a donut. lol Me I would have a hole bag full of donuts sitting there. I have a question. Where do you sell your photos, is there a local store that you use. You must submit some to photo contests offered in magazines. Enjoy all your pictures and of course have many favorites and keep on truck’in.

    • Thanks, Trudy. Typically I sell my photos to clients and publishers who see them on my blog when they search for specific types of images. That’s why I “tag” my photos and posts – so search engines can pick them up more easily.

      I NEVER enter photo contests. There’s so much cheating going on in those contests that they leave a bad taste in my mouth and I want nothing to do with them. Cutting off my nose to spite my face perhaps but so be it…

  • Patty Chadwick

    My husband is electronically uincompetent–has never learned what buttons do what in the car and is always locking me into the damned car., making MY window go up or down. or disabling my window and my lock.control…never thought of something so simple as a piece of duct tape (or as he calls it, “duck tape”)…..

  • Nancy Blake

    Thanks for the peek inside your setup and process, Ron. Looks to me like you are a neat-nik. And did I count 4 or 5 cameras? Great post!

    • Nancy, I carry five cameras including the video cam. 6 if you include my phone. 10 if you include Mia’s cameras in the back seat…

      A neat-nik I’m not. My pickup is ALWAYS a mess!

  • Patty Chadwick

    OK…WHERE’s the noodle???

  • Thanks so much, Ron. You’re a real inspiration to me!

  • Patty Chadwick

    What do you mean “no birds”? That is definitely a rare bird in the first image!!! I found these images and the description of your process very interesting…brought it all home. I even found the image of your “office” interesting…not so much the equipment, which looks huge, heavy and complicated, but the chocolate donut…thanks for sharing this…there’s a lot that goes into what I enjoy so much every morning!!! (Only wish you’d shared the donut, too!)…..

  • Den DiMarco

    Ron, this was anything but boring! Learning about the caddy and your various arrangements to support the task at hand was a real treat.

    Now about the infamous noodle: How exactly do you use that?



  • Fun article Ron. Love to see your logistics. Now that I’m retired, I need to work on a better lens carrying option in my 4-Runner. Donut….. OK I’ll have to pass on that one!! Drink in the evening for me is a nice double espresso latte from my home machine. Your dedication and imagrary are a testament to the dedication it takes to consistently pull off the shots you post. Too Cool!!

  • Jorge H. Oliveira

    Thank you very much for today’s post. Very interesting.

    And I am with Roger Burnard. Those tutorials would be equally great.

    Thanks again for sharing a bit of your life.

  • Judy Tillson

    Thanks Ron for this post, it is always interesting to me to see “behind the scenes”. And thanks Muffy for asking the question. Donuts? Haven’t had one for quite awhile, but if it will make me a better bird photographer, I’m on it! Lol

  • Howard

    Loved the peek “under the hood” of Feathered Photography.

  • That was a wonderful very honest expose, Ron, and I very much appreciate the warts and all approach. Enjoyed it thoroughly. Your process is much more organized than mine, but I’m not out nearly as often as you. (Wish I could be.) I still do keep the binoculars and my 70 Mark II with the 100 to 400 Mark II around my neck. In part it’s simply habit, but it does keep them at a known position in very easy reach for a quick response. When I am driving at a refuge, and there are two that have big loops, one here in New Jersey, and one in South Carolina just north of Savannah, I keep the seatbelt off ( buckled behind me) because I’m never going more than about four or five or 6 miles an hour on well maintained refuge roads, as are ALL the other cars. My scope is kept in the backseat and can be taken out very quickly and set up. Throwing something new into the mix, I do have a brand-new mount to try digi-scoping. Just have to see how that works out. Thanks for the very excellent look into your processes. I think it will help us all.

    • Rich, I carry a pair of binocs in my pickup but I seldom use them. I usually use my 500mm for scoping birds instead.

      I do the same with my seatbelt – buckled behind me so that damned dinger doesn’t go off. I hate many of the bells and whistles in new vehicles!

      Good luck with the new mount for digiscoping! And thank you.

  • Kris Eberhard

    I loved this peek into your day ! Is the “noodle” a pool noodle wrapped in duct tape ? And could that doughnut be the infamous Dunford chocolate doughnut ? My raised- in -Salt Lake friends who
    moved away invariably demanded a box of those doughnuts be brought as a host gift by any visiting SLC friends…….

    • “Is the “noodle” a pool noodle wrapped in duct tape?”

      Yes it is, Kris. See the link I provided Jim Greer below.

      No, my donuts aren’t Dunfords but I wish they were. Those donuts just aren’t quickly accessible to me in the morning. I get mine either from 7-11 or from a convenient gas station.

      Years ago when I was still teaching high school one of my students was the daughter of one of the big shots at Dunford’s and she would occasionally bring me whole boxes of donuts and other goodies. Good stuff!

  • Thank you for the great Information provided Ron.

    As a beginner photographer who photograph mainly from my car, specially after reading many of your and Mia’s Blogs, I understand how these all works.

    Thank you for the info.

  • Dick Harlow

    Now, I really like the first picture, that says a ton!! Plus your desk is a hell of a lot cleaner than mine, even though we have most of the same books. One can’t begin the day or end the day without refreshment!! LOL!
    Very interesting read and I for one is very appreciative that you took the time to let us in. I have a lot of questions, but three will suffice for now.
    Do you have 4 individual computers or 4 large hard drives? Do you store images/data off site as well? Have you ever been hacked?

    • Ha, don’t be fooled by the cleanliness of my desk, Dick. I cleaned it up for the photo. You should see it right now!

      A. I have four individual computers plus five large capacity portable hard drives.
      B. No, I store them all on my computers and hard drives. I think I have three copies of all of them.
      C. The closest I’ve come to being hacked is when our server had repeated denial of service attacks. That causes some real headaches!

  • Roger Burnard

    By the way, mucho thanks for taking the time, and making the effort to respond to all your faithful followers. I know that
    this takes you a lot of time, but I’m equally sure it is one of the reason you have so many who comment on your blog… you make us
    feel like “family.” By doing so, we get to know you better, as a real person, and not some “voice in the ether” that we never
    see. You are indeed a “real teacher,” … if only the world had more like you…. ;-)))

  • Roger Burnard

    Funny that you did this particular post as I have talked with a buddy about asking you to do something similar for some time,
    but just haven’t gotten around to it. Maybe on your next “info blog,” you could have Mia shoot some of you, “in action,” and
    then you might shoot a couple of shots of her working in the backseat? I feel certain that some others would also like to see
    some of your “raw results” before post processing, and some of your “goofs” just to show us pilgrims that you are indeed
    human. A little tutorial of your post processing routing on a few photos would also be wonderful. Also, how about a tutorial
    on how you decide what camera/lens setting you choose in different situations, and why? Mucho thanks for the info that
    you have already given to all of us, and I for one, find it very informative. From one teacher to another, “you did good.” ;-)))

    • You’ve provided some interesting ideas, Roger. I’ll let some of them percolate in my head for a while and see what I might come up with.

  • Mike allred

    Love the noodle idea

  • Jim Greer

    Ron, This has answered a number of questions about how you get such great bird photos. I’m betting the “noodle” is not a high tech device for stability – was it the thing on the drivers side arm rest in your photo? And how do you maneuver so well capturing the birds in flight or as they takeoff from various angles with all that lens to work with? Thanks for this non-boring blog today!!

  • Kelly C Stevens

    Duck (quack) tape and doughnuts.

  • Judy Gusick

    Thx, Ron! (And Muffy for the idea) Always open to new information and how others go about it in the “real world”! :)6″ “spring” snow on the ground since yesterday afternoon, touching power lines (lower dropped it’s snow not the upper” that, so far, haven’t shorted out! Neighbors and Power Co. made aware last evening BUT! 🙂 “Good Friday Dump” a bit early this year:)

    • That sounds like Montana, Judy. Just a few years ago at the end of August I drove all the way from Cut Bank to Monida in a snowstorm. As soon as I got to Idaho it quit.

  • Sibylle Kinley

    A very nice read indeed! Though I miss the wonderful photographs of the birds this morning, this article is a great read for a novice hobby photographer like me who is always trying to think of a better way to prepare! Thank you for sharing these steps!

  • Sharon Constant

    Love this post, Ron! Thanks for giving us an insider’s tour.

  • nikonsteve

    Very interesting Ron, and enlightening….I enjoy the “how to’s…” I have more to say but I have to run and get myself a donut before work….:)
    Thanks Ron.0

  • Zaphir Shamma

    What a fun read, thank you Ron 🙂

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it Zaphir. Coming from another dedicated bird photographer your comment was much appreciated. I was afraid I’d bore everyone…