World Digiscopers Meeting and great life advice from Justin Carr

I get copied on emails to my buddy Clay at Swarovski from time to time. Over the year I kept seeing emails from some guy named Robert Wilson about organizing a digiscopers meeting a chance for pole to come learn about digiscoping but a also a chance for those of us who have been digiscoping for years and sharing our work online to get a chance to meet. 

And somehow...it happened. 

 Viera Wetlands aka Rich Grissom Memorial Wetlands in Melbourne, FL. A great place for photographing birds and alligators and perfect for a digiscoping get together. 

Viera Wetlands aka Rich Grissom Memorial Wetlands in Melbourne, FL. A great place for photographing birds and alligators and perfect for a digiscoping get together. 

As I put this blog together I realize I was a complete dork and didn't get pictures of the people who attended, I simply practiced the technique and learned quite a bit from the others. But it was a totally international affair and people came from Europe and Neil Fifer even flew in from his home in Hong Kong.

What I enjoyed most about it was the chance to listen and watch other people's techniques in the field and try it out with my equipment. And just hang out with guys like Danny Digiscoping--he and I are two peas in a pod. We like to play and get people excited about digiscoping. We aren't trying to be the best, but we want to inspire others to try it and let them shine as the best. Do check out his site, he offers lots of great tips. 

 American Bittern digiscoped with Nikon V1, TLS APO adapter and Swarovski ATX 85mm spotting scope. 

American Bittern digiscoped with Nikon V1, TLS APO adapter and Swarovski ATX 85mm spotting scope. 

One really cool aspect was a day long competition. All of use were partnered up with someone and our team could only submit a total of 10 entries and we were given 8 categories. To prevent someone like me from submitting nothing but birds our categories were: 

Birds
Non Birds
In The Air
Man-made/Weather or Landscapes
Macro
Video no editing
Video - a story told in less than two minutes

 Robert Hunt, my digiscoping partner. That's right, he's using a telescope for digiscoping.

Robert Hunt, my digiscoping partner. That's right, he's using a telescope for digiscoping.

My partner was a complete stranger to me and rather than using a spotting scope like I do...he goes out with a telescope. That's him with his telescope above. It's not my style of digiscoping, but he does astronomy programs in Florida, that's his equipment and he wants to see what he can do with it, He can do some amazing things, but his set up takes longer. The bittern photo above was one of bout 250 that I took while he was still setting up his gear. However, once Rob is set up and going, he can do fun stuff like this.

 Sun spots digiscoped by Robert Hunt.

Sun spots digiscoped by Robert Hunt.

The dude digiscoped the sun...and sun spots. But that wasn't even the coolest thing he did. He digiscoped fish. You heard me correctly, he digiscoped frickin' fish:
 

 Fish (a very tiny one, like a guppie) digiscoped by Robert Hunt. 

Fish (a very tiny one, like a guppie) digiscoped by Robert Hunt. 

One advantage that Rob has was the ability to switch out lenses for different types of subjects. Though that may not be my style or interest for birds, for versatility...and building upper body strength, it worked for him.  I tried it with my iPhone.

 My attempt to digiscope a guppie with an iPhone 5s, Swarovski iPhone adapter and Swarovski ATX 85mm spotting scope. 

My attempt to digiscope a guppie with an iPhone 5s, Swarovski iPhone adapter and Swarovski ATX 85mm spotting scope. 

Not quite the artistic shot that Robert got, but good enough to make me consider attempting it again when I'm around fish...or when I'm bored. I think that's what of the main things I learned from digiscoper Justin Carr. He's a Brit who has an uncanny knack of getting flight shots of birds. When first speaking to him, he was referring to others as the best of the best, but I think he gave me some of the best photography advice ever:

"I was bored and there weren't really any birds so I tried to digiscope a common swift."

Here's a link to his shot...yeah, so he was bored and just, you know, digiscoped a swift. This is one of the most difficult birds to shoot and he got that. 

So from now on when I'm bored, I'm going to try the hardest thing that I can in that moment. That's not exactly bad life advice. 

Speaking of astronomy, Rob got me interested in that so I've been playing around with digiscoping the moon in the time lapse feature on my iPhone. Here's a bit that I got the other night while doing bird surveys in Texas. Digiscoped with the Swarovski ATX 65mm and iPhone 5s:

Not bad. Thanks for the inspiration, Rob.
 

 A double-crested cormorant with a chill photobombing great blue heron behind it. I was eavesdropping and listening to Tara Tanaka give photography tips while I took this. She has inspired me to find more art in my digiscoping. 

A double-crested cormorant with a chill photobombing great blue heron behind it. I was eavesdropping and listening to Tara Tanaka give photography tips while I took this. She has inspired me to find more art in my digiscoping. 

One of the things I was really looking forward to was meeting Tara Tanaka. She's an award winning photographer and does it with digiscoping. Her set up is a bit more complicated than mine, but man does she get some incredible shots. Check out this rabbit nose bump. I took the time while working on the above photo just listen to her talk as other digiscopers asked her questions. She's slow and methodical in her approach--like a little blue heron. I'm more of a trip-colored heron, excited to see if new possibilities and technology can work, running around and frantically squawking. 

Most of the digiscopers there were hot for the Panasonic GH4 with a Digidapter attaching it to their scope. I've been playing with this new adapter and though it only works with Zeiss, Kowa, Leica, Swarovski and Celestron scopes its a good sturdy adapter that works with multiple cameras with a pancake lens. I highly recommend it and when I get some time, I'll go into more depth. One thing that I really like is that it has an easy set mechanisim so you always know where to place your camera on the adapter so it will fit with your scope. Check out the webpage and if you get one, tell the Birdchick sent you--see if it gets you anything special along with your purchase.

 Tri-colored heron flying at sunset. One of the things that I love with the iPhone is that it thinks for you and helps you digiscope some beautiful shots at dawn and dusk without having to make any adjustment.

Tri-colored heron flying at sunset. One of the things that I love with the iPhone is that it thinks for you and helps you digiscope some beautiful shots at dawn and dusk without having to make any adjustment.

The GH4 is a heck of a camera and there was even discussion that the video quality is so good it's super easy to just take fantastic stills from it and if you do that, is that too easy, is it still photography? As I was drooling over the camera, Clay told me that he got one and we can play around with it on our next round of the web series. He didn't think it was the camera for me. And that may be true--I don't like to deal with bells and whistles. Whereas Tara is the sort of person who likes to control every bit of the situation to get the shot she is looking for--controlling ISOs, exposure, metering, I'm the sort who likes the iPhone because it does so much of the thinking for me...good grief, I sound like Ilsa when she tells Rick in Casablanca, "You have to do thinking for all of us." Maybe I should rename my iPhone Bogart. 

 Not the greatest photo ever but most of the time I'm more interested in capturing something interesting rather than making it the perfect photo--like this belted kingfisher lurking under a great blue heron nest. 

Not the greatest photo ever but most of the time I'm more interested in capturing something interesting rather than making it the perfect photo--like this belted kingfisher lurking under a great blue heron nest. 

Tara assures me with some time, practice and patience I could do all this. I'm not so sure. I am certainly set in my ways when it comes to digiscoping, but at the same time maybe I need to challenge myself more to keep myself interested?

 Avocets digiscoped at sunset. 

Avocets digiscoped at sunset. 

We shall see, Tara. 

So of course I had to make a video and iMovie templates make throwing together a quick trailer remarkably easy. Here's the 90 second trailer I came up with for the Digiscoper's meeting based on video that I took in one day for the contest:

If you'd like to see the winning images from the Digiscoping contest, here's the album. Do check it out. One of my favorite images was one that Justin Carr got of a flying butterfly...are you kidding me, Justin? That's nuts.