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The Birdchick – Digiscoping Tips for Beginners

Digiscoping Tips
Sharon Stiteler

One of the big complaints I hear from people about digiscoping is how awful their photos look. My first question is always, “How many photos have you taken?”

“Oh, maybe sixteen or twenty,” is the usual answer.

That’s not nearly enough. For every great photo you see online or in print, there are anywhere from 20 to 500 terrible photos that came before it. As a matter of fact, the more bad photos you take, the closer you are to being a pro!

As easy as digiscoping with a smartphone can be, there are some tried and true photography tips that come into play and those tips are what lead to the fantastic photos you see on Digiscoping Gurus or Worldwide Digiscopers pages on Facebook.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Take a day and take as many craptastic photos as you can. It’s very easy to delete them, but use that time to see what works and what does not. Find a bird feeder either in your yard, a friend’s yard or nature center. Pour yourself a cup of coffee or soda and just allow yourself a few hours of time to get to know your setup.

Figure out which feeder gets the most activity, aim your kit at that feeder and practice focusing. Even if a bird isn’t there, just focus on the feeder and take a few shots. As you focus on the feeder, inevitably a bird will fly in and you’ll mostly be in focus at that point.

Bird feeders are a great way to practice using your equipment. As you watch the birds move, you’ll notice that some like the White-necked Jacobin may perch on a nearby branch while not feeding you can try to get “natural” shots. Photo by The Birdchick.

If you want to try and get shots of birds that come to the feeder but don’t want the feeder in the shot, consider placing branches nearby. The birds will often sit on those branches before coming into the feeder and if you aim your setup at that you can get some “natural” looking shots.

Keep Sun In Mind

On an overcast day you don’t have to worry about sun angle so much. But when it’s out, it can affect your shots. Many photographers like the golden hour of just after sunrise or just before sunset when the birds are in a lovely golden light that brings out their colors. The harsh glare of the noon day sun can really wipe out colors and bring on heat shimmer that will make it impossible to get a sharp photo.

When the sun is out, try to keep it behind you so you are using its brightness to light up the bird. Keep this in mind when you’re looking for places to digiscope birds. This can save you a lot of time in the field when you’re planning on going out. Photography blinds at lakes and wetlands can be fun, but they’re useless to you if the sun is facing the blind when you go. A very handy app for planning your outing and thinking about sun is the The Photographer’s Ephemeris available for both iPhone and Android.

http://photoephemeris.com/

If you are setting up feeders in your yard so you can digiscope birds, try to keep sun angle in mind to make getting shots easier.

Get Closer To The Bird

The advantage of using a spotting scope and smart phone to take pictures of birds is that you can give the bird a comfortable distance. However, that doesn’t mean that eagle nest that is two miles away is going to be a great picture. Yes, you can see it in the scope and depending on the quality of your scope have a great view, but a warm day will give you lots of heat shimmer making a tack sharp photo impossible. The closer you get to your subject, the less atmosphere you will have to deal with while taking the photo.

Here’s a series of photos showing you the difference in quality from distant bird shots to those that are much closer.

 

This is an ok shot of a Turkey Vulture that was very far away. To get better photos, try to get closer with scaring the bird and get it in a more colorful background than the sky. Photo by The Birdchick.

 

Note the Turkey Vulture is on the ground with grasses and daisies behind it. This colorful background enhances the colors of the vulture’s head and feathers. Photo by The Birdchick.

 

This is the same turkey vulture but a little closer. I waited until the bird was preening its feathers and took twenty steps closer and got a head shot. I dared no closer, vultures vomit in self defense. Photo by The Birdchick.

 

Phone Skope Digiscoping Tips – Digiscoping with Binoculars Part 1

Folks often think that digiscoping can only be done with a spotting scope, but you can also digiscope with binoculars! I like to call this “digibinning.” Digibinning is super easy to do with your smartphone using a Phone Skope Adapter. All of our kits are two-piece, a phone-specific case and a optic adapter, which is either optic-specific or universal. In the video below, Cheston shows you how to hook a phone up to a pair of Vortex Viper binoculars using the Phone Skope iPhone 6 Plus Phone Case and U-1 Mini Universal Optic Adapter. This setup is extremely easy to use in the field and takes seconds to attach to binoculars.

How does the system work?

Here are the steps you should take to successfully take pictures through your binoculars with your phone.

  1. Put your phone into the Phone Skope Phone-specific Phone Case
  2. Adjust the diameter of the U-1 Mini Universal Optic Adapter to the size of your binocular eyecup
  3. Lock the U-1 Mini Universal Optic Adapter into the Phone Skope Phone Case
  4. Twist the eyecup out on the binocular
  5. Slide the system over the eyecup
  6. Start taking pictures or video

What can you digiscope through binoculars?

Anything! Anything you see through your binoculars can be captured on your phone by using a Phone Skope Adapter. The Phone Skope makes it easy to take pictures through binoculars by centering the phone camera lens on the optic.

Where can I buy one?

You can purchase a Phone Skope through our online store or at a dealer near you. Please see our Dealer Locator and we urge you to call a dealer first to see if they have the items you need in stock.

Where can I share my photos?

Share your pictures and videos with us on social media with the tag #phoneskope! You can find us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube!

Phone Skope Digiscoping Tips – Using Autofocus for Sharper Photos and Video

The Problem

Using your smartphone for digiscoping can be fun and rewarding, but also challenging. One of the the more challenging aspects is locking the exposure and focus in on the subject you’re photographing. If your subject is not in focus, the resulting video or picture can be undesirable. Therefore, figuring out a way to optimize your settings is essential for producing high quality content! An easy way to remedy this situation is to lock the focus on a specific point on the phone screen. You can do this by simply tapping and holding your finger on the screen until the focus locks. This can usually be accomplished within the standard camera app on most phones (Note: this may only work on newer smartphones or in some 3rd Party apps).

In This Video

In the video below, Zac Griffith demonstrates how easy it is to use the built in autofocus feature on the iPhone to improve the quality of the video. He also shows the difference between the video quality when using autofocus and when autofocus is disabled. 

Contact Us!

If you have any other tips, tricks, or tactics for improving quality of pictures and videos captured using your smartphone and optics, please let us know by sending an email to support@phoneskope.com!

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Phone Skope Digiscoping Tips – What should you do with your optic adapter?

We get asked this question frequently. “What should I do with my optic adapter?” The Phone Skope is a two-piece system, a phone case and a optic adapter. The phone case is always on your phone and the optic adapter locks into the phone case. For spotting scopes, the optic adapters are bigger, so they do not always fit in your pocket. What should you do with it?

Warbler Guide App for Android Devices

I have used the Warbler Guide App for iOS for over a year now and am in love with the function and content of the app, so I was excited to see that the app is now available to Android users! Here’s more from Princeton University Press:

Introduction to the Warbler Guide App (Version 1.1) from Princeton University Press on Vimeo.

The Warbler Guide App is the perfect companion to Princeton’s revolutionary and widely acclaimed book The Warbler Guide, by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle. Whether for study or field use, this innovative app delivers the full power of The Warbler Guide in your pocket—plus unique new app-only features.

The app allows you to identify birds by view or song, quickly and intuitively. Exciting new 3D graphics enable you to view a bird from the exact angle you see it in the field. And the whole range of warbler songs is easily played, compared, and filtered.

Breakthrough features from The Warbler Guide book that are included in the app:

  • Rapid and confident two-step ID process using visual finders and comparison species
  • The first complete treatment of warbler songs, using a new objective vocabulary
  • An intuitive visual finder that includes side, 45-degree, and undertail views
  • Master Pages with detailed ID points
  • Complete guide to determining the age and sex of warblers with photos of all ages and sexes
  • Annotated sonograms showing song structure and key ID points
  • Complete songs, chip calls, and flight calls for all species
  • Comparison species for making confident visual and audio IDs
  • Many additional photos to show behavior and reinforce key ID points
  • Highlighted diagnostic ID points
  • Color Impression Icons for narrowing down ID of warblers from the briefest glimpses
  • Behavior and habitat icons

Unique new app-only features:

  • High-resolution, zoomable, and rotatable 3D models of birds in all plumages, to match field experience of a bird
  • Intuitive, visual, and interactive finders with filters for possible species based on audio and visual criteria chosen by the user
  • Playback of all songs and vocalizations with sonograms makes study of vocalizations easy
  • Selectable finder sortings grouped by color, alphabetical order, song type, and taxonomic order
  • Interactive song finder using objective vocabulary for fast ID of unknown songs
  • Simultaneous visual and song finders make identifying an unknown warbler even easier
  • Half-speed song playback allows for easier study of song structure
  • Comparison species with selectable side, 45 degree, and undertail views
  • Features 75 3D images
  • Covers 48 species and 75 plumages
  • Includes 277 vocalizations, 156 songs, 73 contact calls, and 48 flight calls
  • Detailed “how to use” tutorial screens

Technical Specifications:

  • Requires iOS 7.0 or later or Android 4.1 or later.

Tom Stephenson‘s articles and photos have appeared in Birding and Bird Watcher’s Digest, at Surfbirds.com, and in the Handbook of the Birds of the World. He has guided groups across the United States and Asia. A musician, he has had several Grammy and Academy Award winners as clients, and was director of technology at Roland Corporation. Scott Whittle lives in Cape May, New Jersey, and has twenty years of experience as a professional photographer and educator. He holds an MFA in photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York, is a fellow of the MacDowell Colony, and is a onetime New York State Big Year record holder.

Review: Opticron Savanna WP 8×30

It’s that time of year again, hunting season and bird migration is upon us. As fall progresses, there are more and more opportunities to get involved with outdoor activities and introduce children and young adults to the outdoors. Why am I opening up this review like this? I am doing this because the Opticron Savanna WP 8×30 is a extremely affordable, quality binocular that can be used by anyone looking to connect with nature.

Screenshot 2016-08-12 15.27.20

I’ve been using the Opticron Savanna WP 8×30 for about six months now. Ever since last fall, I have had the “smaller and lighter the better” thought when it came to binoculars, so when I was given the opportunity to check these out, I was beyond stoked. I would pick them up from time to time at various trade shows and was awed at the optic quality, especially for the price. I’ll get to that in a bit.

As I mentioned earlier, these binoculars are great for kids and young adults. I have small hands and they fit them perfectly. My friend and colleague, Frank Dickman, has much bigger hands than me, but still enjoys using these binoculars. Honestly, with the optic quality of the Savanna WP, you cannot go wrong with the Savanna WP no matter the size of your hands!

Tim using Opticron Savanna WP 8x30 IMG_1571

The Savanna WP comes in two sizes, 6×30 and 8×30. I’ve only personally used the 8×30 in the field, but the 6×30 may be a even better option for kids! Both models weigh in at just over a pound and have a close focus of 10 ft, making them a terrific all-around binocular. Give kids a pair of binoculars and let them see the world! My nieces tried out the 8×30 and thoroughly enjoyed looking through them. Neither one of them had a hard time holding the binoculars!

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Do you know the best part? The 6×30 retails for about $99 and the 8×30 at $109! I always say you get what you pay for with optics, but this is a great binocular, so don’t let the price fool you!

Stay tuned for more optic and gear reviews! Make sure to visit our online store for all of your smartphone digiscoping needs!

Remote to Take Pictures with your Phone!

Did you know that you can take photos on your phone with the click of a button? Check out the video below to see how and remember to subscribe to our YouTube channel!

iPhone 6 Plus Field Test

I decided to try something different in this blog post. I just finished up my first round of field testing with a iPhone 6 Plus. I used it in a variety of situations and lighting conditions and on two different spotting scopes via a Phone Skope smartphone digiscoping adapter – Celestron Regal M2 80ED and a Vortex Razor HD 20-60×85. Check out the story I put together using the Steller app for iOS below!

 

Video – May 2015 Birding Highlights

I started out the month of May scouting for the 9th Annual Delaware Bird-a-thon. My team, the BirdsEye Birders, competed in the County Challenge, where we set out on May 3rd to try and find as may species as possible within the boundaries of New Castle County. The results are not in yet, but we tallied 139 species in 24 hours and raised $500! After the bird-a-thon, warbler migration peaked, then shorebirds followed soon after. I also had to deal with finals, wrapping up the semester, and giving two talks, one in the middle of May and a digiscoping talk at the end of the month. In between, I birded as much as I could in White Clay Creek State Park, Middle Run Natural Area, and Port Penn Impoundments in search of new additions to my New Castle County year list! Overall, I submitted 56 eBird checklists and tallied 181 species. I compiled a video of highlights from the month of May that I shot with a iPhone 5c + Celestron Regal M2 80ED & Phone Skope Adapter. Enjoy and bird on!

Note: Be sure to watch on 1080p for best quality!

PhoneSkoping the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler

Kirtland’s Warbler is on the top of every birder’s most wanted list. It is federally endangered and breeds locally in young Jack Pine forests in Wisconsin and Michigan. Fortunately, my friend, Craig Miller, had a chance to visit a breeding location last week and coincidentally, he purchased a Phone Skope adapter right before he left! Craig was able to see and digiscope at least one Kirtland’s Warbler in Michigan! Here’s one of his favorite shots:

Kirtland's Warbler in Michigan. Digiscoped with a Samsung Galaxy S3 + Swarovski ATX Spotting Scope & Phone Skope Adapter. Photo by Craig Miller - used with permission.

Kirtland’s Warbler in Michigan. Digiscoped with a Samsung Galaxy S3 + Swarovski ATX Spotting Scope & Phone Skope Adapter. Photo by Craig Miller – used with permission.

Find out more about the Kirtland’s Warbler at this link.