Robert OToole Photography
  • Dec20

    Currently I am shooting with a new Sigma 150-600 Sports Lens, my new favorite lens by the way, and will be posting a review of the lens here soon. Until then I wanted to post some quick results of center sharpness at 600mm, wide open, the focal length and aperture that should be of interest to a lot of people. I will post lots of images of real life subjects and more map images at other apertures and focal lengths soon.

    150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports lens on Nikon D810, OS off. Live view focus, AF lock, Manual mode, 1/1250 s, f/6.3, Auto ISO, EV at 0.

    Jobu MK3 gimbal head and Jobu Algonquin Carbon Tripod

    Be sure to click on any image below if you would like to launch the viewer and see a larger version on the image.

    Example

    Full un-cropped test image

    Example

    Center 100% magnification view crop of the image above, remember no sharpening was applied

    The results here speak for themselves, sharp at the center wide open at 600mm. Stopped down 1/3rd – 2/3rd stop and at shorter focal lengths the sharpness improves pushing the results into prime lens territory. I think Sigma is going to have a hard time keeping up with sales of this lens!

    Interested in a complete lab test of the  150-600 sports lens? Check out lenstip’s test: http://www.lenstip.com/417.1-Lens_review-Sigma_S_150-600_mm_f_5-6.3_DG_OS_HSM.html

    Any questions or comments? Leave a question below or send me an email.

    All content (including text, design, photos, layout, and graphics) are copyright © 2014 Robert OToole.  All rights reserved.

  • Dec16

    After nine years of leading tours at Bosque I have seen more than my share of unforgettable moments that keep me coming back. This year the conditions were not all time but Bosque still delivered really great moments for all my tour participants.

    Be sure to click on any image below if you would like to launch the viewer and see a larger version on the image.

    Example
    Early morning crane display. Sigma 150-600 Sports lens and Nikon D810, 1/1250 s, f/6.3, 600mm ISO 640, EV + .3, Manual mode with Auto-ISO, Jobu MK3 gimbal head and Jobu Algonquin Carbon Tripod.

    The weather at Bosque this year was different (this seems to be common theme with all of my tour reports this year). The weather was so warm we no snow and only a couple of mornings with temps below freezing. The upside to the warm temps were some unusual bird behavior. The cranes would display and dance in large groups in the mornings, not as much as other crane species but for sandhills it was pretty special. One afternoon my group watched a large group of cranes bath for about an our. This might not seem like anything special but in my nine years of spending lots and lots of time on the reserve I have seen a sandhill bathe there once before. Unfortunately the bathing was too far away to shoot but it was interesting to observe.

    Example
    Early Late evening fly in speed blur. Sigma 150-600 Sports lens and Nikon D810, 1/20 s, f/6.3, 600mm ISO 72, EV + .7, Manual mode with Auto-ISO, Jobu MK3 gimbal head and Jobu Algonquin Carbon Tripod.

    The cranes pools have always been reliable at Bosque and one of my favorite spots of all time. This year was different, the pools really were the place to be since they were the only reliable location to shoot on the reserve! My favorite spot, the north crane pool was overgrown this year, really limiting the spot’s opportunities but management has promised me the north crane pool will be trimmed and back to normal in 2015!

    All of the images in this post were made with the new Sigma 150-600 sports lens. This year I decided not to bring a big prime lens for the first time. How did the lens perform at Bosque? Superb, even wide open at 600mm. This trip to New Mexico was my first chance to shoot with this lens so I will post a field report on the lens performance once I am done my current trip in Hawaii. I am looking forward to sharing more images and my experiences on this new lens! Sigma really did an amazing job with the lens.

    Example
    Pintails bathing in morning light and mist at the flight deck pool. Sigma 150-600 Sports lens and Nikon D810, 1/1250 s, f/6.3, 280mm ISO 900, Manual mode with Auto-ISO, Jobu MK3 gimbal head and Jobu Algonquin Carbon Tripod.

    The main or flight deck pool is past its prime by the time my groups were there since it is flooded in October but still the pool was had lots to offer in December with ducks and great light most mornings like in the image above.

    Lots more coming in part two of this report coming as soon as I can finish up editing images.

    If you would like to join us next year my 2015 tour dates will be available really soon, you can email me anytime to be placed on the interested list.

    Any questions or comments? Leave a question below or send me an email.

    All content (including text, design, photos, layout, and graphics) are copyright © 2014 Robert OToole.  All rights reserved.

  • Aug21

    My annual brown bear tour visits some of the very best brown photo locations on the planet and the timing of the trips in late July and early August means we will have excellent photographic opportunities for brown bears, many with cubs, great weather, and good chances for bears fishing.

    Example
    © 2014 Robert OToole Photography

    If you would like to join me next year my 2015 tour dates are open for registration and have just started to fill so email me as soon as you can if you are interested in joining us. Through experience I can tell you that the timing of these tours offers the best balance great action and good weather having led past tours at the same locations from the months of June to September.

    For 2015 we will have the new updated accommodations and headquarters with plenty of room and space for the entire group.

    July 19-25, 2015. 7 Days, 6 nights: $6500. Deposit $1500.

    Maximum 12 photographers + leader: Robert O’Toole and co-leader.

    August 9-15, 2015. 7 Days, 6 nights: $6500. Deposit $1500.

    Maximum 4 photographers + leader Robert O’Toole and co-leader.

    August 15-21, 2015. 7 Days, 6 nights: $6500. Deposit $1500.

    Maximum 4 photographers + leader Robert O’Toole and co-leader.

    For more information see the tour info page: http://www.robertotoole.com/workshop/brown-bears/

    Any questions or comments? Leave a question below or send me an email.

    All content (including text, design, photos, layout, and graphics) are copyright © 2014 Robert OToole.  All rights reserved.

  • Aug4

    Coastal Brown Bear Paradise

    Over the last weeks the weather for my two back to back brown bear photo tours was just about perfect. Two weeks without a single rainy day is almost unheard of in coastal Alaska and our group took advantage of the great conditions spending as much time as possible in the field especially for the unbelievable evening light from about 7 to 10:30.

    Example
    Late evening in Hallo Bay, Katmai NP, Alaska. Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 EX lens and Nikon D4, 1/1000 s, f/4, 170mm ISO 900, EV + .7, Manual mode, Jobu MK3 gimbal head and Jobu Algonquin Carbon Tripod.

    Good sized schools of fresh looking salmon greeted us at each location we visited. Although the overall bear numbers were down this year the combination of salmon and the superb conditions made up for the lack of bears giving us excellent photo opportunities at Hallo and Geographic every single day. On a few occasions the bears that did show up to fish got so burned out from fishing they sat watching fish go by just inches away! Can you imagine how frustrated that is for a photographer? A few times the bears were so stuffed with salmon they would create a cache of fish on the beach, burying them in the sand to eat later. Normally bears will do this with large prey they kill but they usually eat salmon on the spot.

    Example
    Perfect late evening light, Hallo Bay, Katmai NP Alaska. Sigma 300-800mm F5.6 EX lens and Nikon D700 (backup body), 1/1000 s, f/8, 800mm ISO 800, EV + 1, Manual mode, Jobu MK3 gimbal head and Jobu Algonquin Carbon Tripod.

    The mild warm weather and lack of big male bears seemed to bring the mother bears and cubs to the meadows. At Hallo we had a mother with a yearling, two mothers with 2 spring cubs, and another mother with a single spring cub. Hallo has always been my favorite location for bears with cubs.

    Example
    Feeding frenzy bear lunge, Hallo Bay, Katmai NP Alaska. Sigma 50-500mm F5.6 EX lens and Nikon D4, 1/2000 s, f/8, 380mm ISO 1000, Manual mode, handheld.

    Although the weather was pleasant this July it possible to have too much sun in Alaska.  This year the intense sunny conditions and dry weather did cause some problems by kicking salmon berries into overdrive way too early this year. Normally the berries peak in late summer/autumn giving the bears something to gorge on before winter sets in. This year was way different.

    Instead of finding bears waiting patiently for salmon lots of bears didn’t bother to show up at all for the salmon. It seems the bears took advantage of the available berries and stayed away from the streams, creeks and river mouths. So instead of the 12-15 bears you can see when the salmon are running in a normal year we would see 5 or 6 in a single area.

    A park ranger/biologist told me that the bear numbers were about 40% of last year, which were already down from the previous year.

    Example
    Chum Salmon breakfast, Hallo Bay, Katmai NP Alaska. Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 EX lens and Nikon D4, 1/1250 s, f/4, 420mm ISO 1400, EV + .7, Manual mode, Jobu MK3 gimbal head and Jobu Algonquin Carbon Tripod.

    Late July early August is my favorite time of the year in Katmai for bears with cubs and bears fishing. Year after year this time frame has proven to be very good with minimal rain compared to late summer or early spring. For photographers this means you can get used to ISO levels of 400 up to 3200, later in the season you have to get used to a minimum ISO level of 1600 or higher.

    Example
    Mother and cubs on alert, Hallo Bay, Katmai NP Alaska. Sigma 50-500mm F5.6 EX lens and Nikon D4, 1/2000 s, f/8, 380mm ISO 1000, Auto-ISO, EV + .3, Manual mode, handheld.

    Even though the conditions this year were a little different than previous years everyone on the tour had plenty of excellent opportunities to put both long and short lenses to good use.

    If you would like to join us next year my 2015 tour dates are available already and the tours have started to fill so email me as soon as you can if you are interested in joining us.

    Any questions or comments? Leave a question below or send me an email.

    All content (including text, design, photos, layout, and graphics) are copyright © 2014 Robert OToole.  All rights reserved.

  • Jul13

    Recently I was asked for help identifying a mysterious spring mounted tab on a Nikon lens mount that was protruding on one body, present but not protruding on a second body and missing entirely on third body. So what does this mystery tab do exactly?

    Example

    The small spring-loaded tab is a mechanical AF drive coupling for old AF Nikkor and non Nikon mount lenses that do not have a built-in AF motor. On the left side we can see the AF drive coupling protruding with the body AF/MF switch in AF mode and on the right side we can see the coupling retracted with the AF/MF switch in MF mode.

    Unlike modern lenses with built-in AF motors the focus ring on older AF lenses should not be turned manually without first disengaging the AF drive coupling via the AF/MF switch on the body. With the AF drive coupling retracted you can safely manually focus an early generation AF lens without any worries about damaging the lens or AF linkage.

    If the AF drive linkage is missing from the mount, not just retracted in the mount, the body will not able to drive the autofocus on older F-Mount AF lenses Nikon or non Nikon (you can of course use the lens in manual focus). This means here are lots of early generation autofocus F-mount lenses, Nikon or independent manufacturer lenses on the used market that will work great on a current Nikon body.

    Example

    This is the female or lens side AF drive coupling on an old AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D lens. In addition to old Nikkor AF lenses I also own a few older Sigma lenses without built-in AF motors that have the same type of female mechanical AF coupling. These older AF and AF-D marked lenses cannot be used on some of the consumer type Nikon bodies like the D60, D3000,D3100, D5000, D5100 since they do not have this AF coupling for the older type AF lenses. Newer AF-I and AF-S Nikon mount lenses all have built-in AF motors and do not need a mechanical AF drive coupling.

    The backward compatibility of the Nikon F-mount on most Nikon DSLR bodies means you can pick up older AF or MF lenses for a steal and still enjoy auto-aperture, AF and great image quality even on a modern body like the D800.

    All content (including text, design, photos, layout, and graphics) are copyright © 2014 Robert OToole.  All rights reserved.

  • Jul11

    Example

    Check out the July Alaska magazine on stands now until August.  A few of my images were chosen for the cover and an article on Katmai. The cover was made at Geographic Harbor in 2012 but seems like it was made yesterday. The experience was something I won’t forget. Right after this image was made the bear made a burst right at us, actually at a salmon thankfully, and stopped a few feet away in a explosion of spray. Everyone was so shocked only one of the group was able to grab a short zoom and get any close up images of the bear with a salmon in its jaws. It might sound dangerous but it was really one of the moments that keeps me coming back to Alaska.

    This experience is also one reason that you need to know what you are doing, or hire an experienced guide that does, when working with brown bears. Although its tempting to wade into a shallow stream when shooting bears to get a particular angle of view you need to realize that a salmon only needs a couple of inches of water to swim very fast and a bear or bears wont stop at anything to get the fish. To make this cover image I was set up on a dry gravel bar but if we were in a few inches of water I think we would have gotten a much more extreme close up look at this bear!

    Its always nice to see one of your images on a cover but as always its never about compensation since this cover and two other images would have covered about 3% of the expenses for the trip. In years past images like this would have paid something like 10% of the total expenses but times have changed.

    If you cant find the magazine at the newsstand near you, it also available in electronic formate or let me know as I might be able to help.

    All content (including text, design, photos, layout, and graphics) are copyright © 2014 Robert OToole.  All rights reserved.

  • Jun11

    Example

    Thanks to Sigma USA I will be back in the Boston area on Jun 20 and 21st giving image presentations on nature photography.

    If you are in the area please join me. I will have lots of time for questions, or just to say hello even after the event. Sigma will also be there with lots of demo lenses. Hunts will be

    For more information follow this link to Hunt’s: http://wbhunt.com/events/robertotoole/

    To sign up: https://www.huntsphotoandvideo.com/listing.cfm?cid=27

    Any questions or comments? Leave a question below or send me an email.

    All content (including text, design, photos, layout, and graphics) are copyright © 2015 Robert OToole.  All rights reserved.

  • May15

    Example

    If you live in Southern California make time to stop by The Big Photo Show this weekend. Thanks to Sigma USA I will be back at the LA convention center for the second TBPS (The Big Photo Show). Last year  was packed I was told there were over 20,000 at the event. This year will be a lot bigger with even more companies displaying, more live events, and even more presentations. If you do decide to go don’t just show up, make sure you register for tickets ahead of the event.

    Example

    Sigma USA will be sponsoring me for two presentations and I will be making time to hand out signed 8×10 prints in the Sigma booth after my show. My presentations will be Saturday May 17 at 5 PM and Sunday May 18 at 1 PM so hope you can make it, see you there!

    https://www.thebigphotoshow.com/

    Any questions or comments? Leave a question below or send me an email.

    All content (including text, design, photos, layout, and graphics) are copyright © 2015 Robert OToole.  All rights reserved.

  • Apr2

    Epic 12 Days of Eagle Photography

    Over the last 9 years of leading eagle tours in Alaska the photo opportunities have been getting better and better but this year the opportunities were unprecedented.  In the first week my first tour group were really lucky to see all kinds of weather conditions over five days from snow flurries to a blizzard and finally sunny conditions but the she second and third groups were able to enjoy something I have never seen before in all of time leading tours, 12 days of sun with light to non existent winds. The winds were what bird photographer dreams are made of, SE wind in the morning and SW wind in the afternoon, which are ideal. We had superb action in gorgeous light with perfect winds for 12 straight days, unbelievable!

    Example
    Eagle mid strike in late afternoon light. Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM | S @ 290mm, Nikon  D4, manual mode, 1/2000th s at f/5.6, ISO 640, handheld.

    The location for the image above is easily one of my favorites in Alaska. This is a protected tidal pool with distant spruce trees and snow covered mountain tops in the background and offshore winds in the afternoon.

    For most of the time this year light levels were high enough to allow ISO levels in the hundreds (not in the thousands) with plenty of shutter speed.

    Example
    Bank landing on the beach in warm early morning light. Sigma 50-500mm OS HSM  @ 340mm, Nikon  D4, manual mode, 1/2000th s at f/8.0, ISO 640, handheld.

    As a display of aggression some eagles when landing near a group of others with bank hard and call when landing. I try to listen for and single out these individuals whenever I hear  and eagle calling.

    Example
    Full spread landing. Sigma 50-500mm OS HSM @ 340mm, Nikon  D4, manual mode, 1/2000th s at f/8.0, ISO 640, handheld.

    Eagles usually prefer to land on something above ground level like this driftwood log on the beach for example so preparation and patience always pay off with images like this.

    One of the best things about my eagle tour, something most people can’t believe, is that you don’t need 500-600 or 800mm lens. My favorite images made on the tour this year were from 90mm to about 350mm on a full frame camera. My favorite lens this year by far was the Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM | S. For lots of people, me included, a 300 prime lens can be great birds in flight lens but for shooting conditions on this trip a 300mm prime can definitely be too much so a 120-300 f/2.8 zoom or 70-200 with a 1.4X are just about ideal.

    Example

    Inverted bank before diving in perfect late afternoon light. Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM | S @ 300mm, Nikon  D4, manual mode, 1/4000th s at f/4.0, ISO 400, handheld.

    Eagles really seem to enjoy radical maneuvers in flight, like this upside down flip right before a dive.

    One afternoon my group was treated to an air-show when a sub-adult eagle blasted barrel roll after barrel roll miles above the tree line. It left everyone speechless.

    Example
    Eagle hovering with talons out in late afternoon light. Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM | S @ 170mm, Nikon  D4, manual mode, 1/4000th s at f/4, ISO 320, handheld.

    With stiff offshore winds, perfect late afternoon light and 50 eagles in the air your available memory card space seems to evaporate into the cold air.

    A stiff breeze will keep eagles up in the air hovering then when they want to dive they stick out their talons, flare their wings and tail out slamming on the air-brakes before they pitch forward into a dive. This is the split second of maximum stall right before the dive. This is something I will never get tired of seeing in the viewfinder!

    Example
    Eagle roost. Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM | S @ 300mm, Nikon  D4, manual mode, 1/4000th s at f/4.0, ISO 400, handheld.

    Soft light and lots of eagle roosting, this is exactly what you want to see when you arrive at a photography location first thing in the morning.

    2015 dates have been confirmed so if you would like to join me next year contact me as soon as possible to avoid being disappointed since the 2013 and 2014 tours were sold-out. For more info:

    http://www.robertotoole.com/workshop/bald-eagles/

    Eagle Photo Tour Series 2015
    Mar 14th –  18th,  2015, 5 days $3900. Deposit $1950.  5 photographers maximum.
    Mar 20th- 24th,  2015, 5 days $3900. Deposit $1950. 5 photographers maximum.
    Mar 26th – Mar 30,  2015, 5 days $3900. Deposit $1950. 5 photographers maximum.
    Tour leader: Robert OToole

    March 14th – 18th,  2015, 5 days $3900. Deposit $1950.  5 photographers maximum.

    March 20th – 24th,  2015, 5 days $3900. Deposit $1950. 5 photographers maximum.

    March 26th – Mar 30,  2015, 5 days $3900. Deposit $1950. 5 photographers maximum.

    Tour leader: Robert OToole

    Any questions or comments? Leave a question below or send me an email.

    All content (including text, design, photos, layout, and graphics) are copyright © 2015 Robert OToole.  All rights reserved.

  • Mar19

    Part One – Sunny with a Chance of a Blizzard

    Over this past week my first tour group and I have been super lucky to see everything Alaska has to offer in terms of photographic possibilities and some of the most challenging shooting conditions I have seen up here. Over 5 days we have seen everything from a full blizzard to perfect sunny conditions and almost everything in between. For only the second time since 2005 I had to cancel a shoot in Alaska due to a blizzard that slammed into the area with 45 mph winds, 10 foot waves and snow and ice coming down sideways just as we were gearing up to leave for a shooting session.

    Example
    Eagle inverted right before a dive, Sigma 50-500mm F4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM @ 340mm, Nikon  D4, manual mode, 1/1600th s at f/8, ISO 400, Manual mode, handheld.

    Eagles seem to enjoy aerial acrobatic flying. They will often throw themselves into an upside down position at the top of a climb, as you can see above, to redirect straight down into a steep dive. Sometimes if you are lucky to be close enough you can hear the wind rush off their wings in a low roar as they shoot by. Sometimes you can actually feel this rush of wind if are right below them.

    Over the next few days after the blizzard we had great opportunities with clouds, snow, wind and even beautiful sunny conditions on the last day of the tour. On the last shooting session of the tour the participants had enough of shooting and literally called it quits completely worn out by all the continuous action over the last couple of days. The group all had huge smiles on their tired faces as we headed back on the last session of the tour.

    Example
    Eagle wing up threat pose, Sigma 50-500mm F4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM @ 500mm, Nikon  D4, manual mode, 1/500th s at f/8, ISO 500, Manual mode, handheld.

    When an individual eagle lands near a group they sometimes land with wings straight up, beating only the tops or tips of their wings while calling. This threat pose is always great to see but can be very hard to catch unless you are looking out specifically for this pose. After years and years photographing eagles I have only been able to capture this behavior a half a dozen times or so I was really happy to see this opportunity for my group.

    Example
    Eagle inverted, Sigma 50-500mm F4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM @ 210mm, Nikon  D4, manual mode, 1/40th s at f/8, ISO 100, Manual mode, handheld.

    Low light levels and deep dark backgrounds makes for great opportunities for speed blurs. The low light makes it possible to use low ISO levels and the dark background in the image above makes details in the eagle really stand out. 1/40th of a second gives you just enough blur to show the speed of the subject.

    Example
    Eagle inverted, Sigma 120-300 f/2.8 OS HSM @ 270mm, Nikon  D4, manual mode, 1/2000th s at f/5.6, ISO 640, Manual mode, handheld.

    Even though I have shot this for what seems like the millionth time, I still love the fully extended wings forward eagle bank. For this session the cloudy sky gave us super soft light and nice soft backgrounds.

    More images and details coming soon in the second part of this report including 2015 tour dates!

    Any questions or comments? Leave a question below or send me an email.

    All content (including text, design, photos, layout, and graphics) are copyright © 2014 Robert OToole.  All rights reserved.