November/December Customer Spotlight – Robert Helder

November/December Customer Spotlight – Robert Helder

Welcome to our thirty-fifth Bergen County Camera Customer Spotlight. This monthly posting features a customer who’s made an impression on us. They might have grown in their understanding of photography, gained a mastery of the craft and / or have become a strong advocate of our way of doing business in the world of photography. During the next month you will see this customer’s images displayed on our digital signs in store, in our emails, blog posts and social media.  

Robert Helder is our customer spotlight for the months of November-December. We hope you both enjoy and are inspired by this new addition to In Focus and look forward to your comments and suggestions. Below you will find a gallery containing some of Robert’s images.

About Robert:

Robert Helder has been a friend of the Bergen County Camera team for many years, however, his passion for photography goes back much further. Robert took up photography at a very young age. He did so after seeing his father’s interest in the art form. It remained a hobby throughout his childhood, but really became a passion when he began travelling in early adulthood. Robert spent much of his early 20’s visiting Europe, using a Nikkormat camera to capture images of his travels. This remained his primary focus until, as one does in life, he started a family. Robert’s photography shifted towards capturing precious memories of his kids. His family was his focus for many years and as time went on, photography took a back seat.

It wasn’t until years later that he was introduced to the hawk watch at State Line Lookout. The hawk watch is held annually at the park, where bird watchers and photographers flock to view migrating birds of prey. From hawks and eagles to a local pair of Peregrine Falcons, there was always something to see. A few trips to the lookout and Robert’s passion for photography was rekindled. Since then, he has broadened his horizons, choosing to photograph most of nature has to offer. Whether it be plant or animal, Robert is captivated by it all.

Robert continues to grow as a photographer and continues to visit Bergen County Camera for all his photographic needs. He consistently shoots local parks and nature centers where he finds elusive and hard to find species.

Check out just some of his gallery below to see some of the incredible images he’s captured!

Bird Photography: Grasshopper Sparrow

Whether on a backyard bird feeder or on the streets of Manhattan, you’ve likely seen a Sparrow. Many associate the term solely with the common nuisance species, the House Sparrow. These birds are known to nest in the eaves of homes. However, upon further inspection, one can start to note differences in the birds they simply call “Sparrow”. Nearly 50 species of Sparrow exist in North America. Of them, 19 can be spotted in New Jersey alone. Some are migratory, while others remain in the Garden State Year-round. Of the migratory species, one had caught my interest in recent years. The Grasshopper Sparrow.

Nikon D850, NIKKOR 500mm f/4G VR – f/4.0 – 1/4000 – ISO 800

About the Bird: 

Introducing, the Grasshopper Sparrow. This is not your typical backyard bird. Instead, this sparrow is highly habitat specific. The Grasshopper Sparrow is a grassland bird, preferring patchy meadows with little to no shrub cover. This allows this species to freely move across the ground. You heard correctly; this bird is primarily a ground dweller. Here, they forage and prey upon insects and such. True to their name, these Sparrows do eat plenty of grasshoppers, though they will also eat beetles, spiders, caterpillars, and such. Surprisingly, their hankering for grasshoppers is not what earned them their name. In fact, it is the grasshopper like song they emit. 

A buzzy trill, their song is much quieter than most common sparrows. It is also only when singing that these birds show themselves. From the top of a stalk, they make their presence known to rival males and potential mates. If all goes well, the singing male will attract a female and thwart intruding males. Then the nest making begins. Nests are located on the ground and usually consist of a mix of grass, hair and other fine materials. The nest is a typical bowl, though it is usually covered in a dome of dense vegetation, allowing access only from the side. Once completed, the nest can house about half a dozen eggs. Each egg is more important than the last as this species is in steep decline.

With an ever-shrinking habitat, the Grasshopper Sparrow is increasingly more difficult to find. Since the mid 20th century, its population has drastically declined. Populations have declined as much as 97 percent in New York State alone. This is mostly due to habitat loss. This is largely due to land development and vegetation succession. These occurrences lead to grasslands becoming smaller, fragmented and as a result, less favorable to the Grasshopper Sparrow. Luckily, this species responds positively to a number of human agricultural management activities such as scheduled mowing, grazing and controlled burns. The old practice of turning marshes into landfills has also had a surprisingly positive effect on grassland species. While detrimental to marshland species, most of these landfills were eventually isolated and capped. This created prime grassland habitat where species like Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark and of course, the Grasshopper Sparrow could thrive once again.

Grasshopper Sparrow on Milkweed – Nikon D850, NIKKOR 500mm f/4G VR – f/4.0 – 1/4000 – ISO 800

How I Got the Shot: 

With any wildlife photography, I recommend a starting lens no less than 300mm. A basic 70-300mm kit lens will suffice. That being said, if there’s one type of bird that pushes us to longer focal lengths, it’s songbirds. An APS-C, or “cropped”, sensor paired with such a zoom will provide some relief, though you’ll learn quickly if a longer lens is needed. I was shooting with a 500mm prime lens for most of my outings with these birds. I found this lens paired with a full frame DSLR just long enough to get the results I was after. I personally like some empty space in my images, but it’s a look that’s not for everyone. Someone equipped with a 600mm lens and an APS-C body would have gotten much closer results.

Next comes lighting. I always recommend shooting in the first hours of daylight or the last few with the sun either to my back or facing me directly. This varies on what effect I’m going for with my images. More often than not, you’ll want the sun on your back as it is in the image above. We call this shooting on “Sun-angle”. Shooting in these hours not only provides the most pleasing light, it also happens to be cooler, which in turn, makes for active wildlife. It’s also worth shooting when the sun isn’t visible at all. Overcast days provide soft, diffuse light that can be pleasing throughout the day. In fact, I prefer to shoot on these days for most other songbirds I photograph.

As this species prefers life on the ground, finding one in the open was quite the challenge. As luck would have it, this patch of grassland habitat harbored a number of singing males. This resulted in territorial skirmishes between neighboring birds. Once a male had successfully chased the intruder off, it would perch atop a grass stalk and sing. The height of the grass allowed me to crouch down and remain almost invisible from the height of the sparrow. As this is not a heavily visited location, the birds were not accustomed to human presence. I had to tread carefully. Once in position, I remained in the area for much of the evening. By sitting as still as possible, I managed to photograph three individual males.

As stated above, if there’s one time and place you want the longest lens possible, it’s here. Songbirds, especially these sparrows, are small and skittish. As stated above, I spent most of the shoot crouching along the fields edge to stay hidden. I also got low as to shoot from my subjects eye-level. Being at the same level as your subject is essential to engaging your audience. It’s scenarios like these where super-telephoto zooms are ideal. If the bird comes closer, you can always zoom out without moving and startling the bird. These lenses also tend to be lighter than their prime counterparts, although new mirrorless lenses as well as Nikon’s Phased Fresnel optics are narrowing the margin.

A major aspect I made sure to check before situating myself, was the backgrounds. I made sure to keep an eye out for bright objects in the distance. Any one distracting element can throw the whole composition off, and I try to avoid removing spots in post as much as possible. A wide aperture and the vast field ultimately made for a nice, smooth background. Remember, the farther away the background, the blurrier it will become. As long as you’re using a long lens, this occurs regardless of aperture.

Once I was set up, I could begin thinking about positioning the bird in the frame. If you’ve attended one of my focus sessions at BCC, you’ve heard me talk about the rule of thirds time and time again. This is for good reason. All too often I see images with the bird or animal smack dab in the middle of the frame. There is a time and place for this, but more often than not, it’s not ideal. By positioning the bird in the lower right third of this image, it gives a sense of space. The bird is singing into the emptiness of the frame, allowing the viewer to imagine what lies ahead. This empty space is often referred to as “dead” space. Learn to use it well, and you’ll be on the path to strong compositions. If you can’t do this in the heat of the moment, remember, you can always crop in post. The beauty of modern cameras is their resolution. You can crop with little to no image degradation. I would be lying if I said I nailed the composition in-camera every time. I crop most if not all of my images to some degree.

Nikon D850, NIKKOR 500mm f/4G VR – f/4.0 – 1/1600 – ISO 400

Lastly, always prioritize the well-being of your subject. Allow space for the birds to feed, sing, and go about their business uninterrupted. Don’t panic if you accidentally flush a bird. We’ve all done it. Learn from it and avoid doing so in the future. Where applicable, stay on designated trails and respect boundaries. Wildlife refuges and parks are riddled with trails and roads for authority and park staff use. Authorized personnel signs mean authorized personnel only. Do not enter. Where trails are narrow or simply do not exist, watch your step. Many animals, not just the Grasshopper Sparrow, nest on the ground and don’t shy away from leaving young on or near trails. Be careful, wear your sunscreen and insect repellent, but also have fun with it.

If you’re interested in learning more about my bird photography techniques and outings, click here for more. We will be adding in-the-field workshops to our website in the near future, so stay tuned. Sign up for our weekly newsletter for updates.

All the best,


Photography Meetup – Holland Ridge Tulip Farm Friday April 15


The Tulips are finally going to peak and we’ll be there on Friday April 15 from Noon until 5 pm. 

Please purchase your tickets online on Holland Ridge Farm’s website before departing. Holland Ride Farm is located about 2 hours from Bergen County. Google Maps

Suggestions for this meetup
Paul Carretta will be on location from 12 pm – 5 pm to help guide you through taking great shots of the tulip fields.
Please purchase your tickets online in advance on the Holland Ridge Farm website
Macro and wide angle lenses recommended
You may be shooting at very low angles to make great photographs so do not wear dress clothes or shoes.
Low angle tripods, diffusors, and reflectors are also a good idea to bring along but not necessary
You are responsible for tickets to enter and getting yourself to the meetup

Questions? Please give the store a call.

Dr Kim Sloan – Wildlife and Nature Photography Webinar

Dr Kim Sloan’s previous session brought rave reviews will be back again to show his amazing Nature and Wildlife images. This talk will appeal to any nature lover or photographer alike.

Join us for this free webinar on Saturday March 19th at 9:30 am

Free Registration

During this talk he will weave his experience moving completely from DSLR equipment and workflow to mirrorless. We hope you can join us.

Dr Kim Sloan - Elk
Dr Kim Sloan – Big Kahuna
Dr Kim Sloan - Sunset
Dr Kim Sloan – Sunset

More about Dr. Kim Sloan

Kim Sloan has been involved with photography since 1963. He started in photography using an Olympus Pen E camera. This was a range finder camera, with a 35mm attached lens. Since then he has used 35mm SLR, medium format cameras, all of which were film cameras. The manufacturers included Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Minolta, and Leica.

He has gone strictly digital over the past 12 years. He has extensive experience with Nikon, Sony, and Canon systems.

His photography usually involves nature, either animal, landscape or astrophotography. He has traveled extensively, and will present pictures from Africa as well as many national parks in the United States or Canada.

Customer Spotlight – Dr. Kumar Patel

Welcome to our fourth Bergen County Camera Customer Spotlight. This monthly posting features a customer who’s made an impression on us. They might have grown in their understanding of photography, gained a mastery of the craft and / or have become a strong advocate of our way of doing business in the world of photography. During the next month you will see this customer’s images displayed on our digital signs in store, in our emails, blog posts and social media. We hope you both enjoy and are inspired by this new addition to In Focus and look forward to your comments and suggestions. 

Dr. Kumar Patel is this month’s customer profile. Please enjoy a few of Dr. Kumar Patel’s images in the gallery below.

A word from Dr. Kumar Patel:
My passion is nature photography. In my opinion, being close to nature provides the best form of meditation. In addition, I find it fascinating to observe and study animal behavior. I am learning something new all the time.

My photography allows me to share my love of nature with family and friends. In this endeavor, the support and guidance from our friends at Bergen County Camera is an invaluable asset for me.

My website:

Dr. Kumar Patel

Free Saturday Focus Sessions – March – May

Focus sessions are free and take place in the Westwood store from 9:30 am – 10 am and our Englewood location from 10:30 am – 11:00 am. All sessions will allow for questions and answers. Please bring your camera and any images along that you have questions about.

Hit the “Like Button” to let your friends know. Have suggestions for future focus sessions? Feel free to leave a comment.

Here’s our upcoming Focus Sessions:

February 18th – Getting Started with Photo Books

February 25th – Tripods and Monopods

March 3rd – What’s in Your Camera Bag

Read more