Ya, we gotta know that f/stop and shutter speed stuff (this might help with that!) and you have all the right gear (until the next batch of new stuff comes out) but are you ready for the sneak attacks? One of the greatest parts about photography no matter what kind you want to think about are the surprises. Those surprises are the serendipitous moments that often make your ordinary photograph very special. When these moments happen, we have to not only have the right gear and techniques, but be smart enough to recognize the surprise as being special to take advantage of it. Our knowledge base has to be so large to recognize that what we’re seeing is not only very special, but be able to bring that back in our images!
Case in point. We were shooting in the march in Churchill, Canada late one evening (21:00 late) working a great group of shorebirds. I was shooting with my bird rig: Gitzo 5561SGT w/ Wimberley Head(w/ RRS Quick Release mount attached) is the Nikon 800f5.6 AFS (w/TC800-25e) and D4 working the Solitary Sandpiper when I saw an unique walk emerge from the bank. Knowing biology can pay big dividends with one being able to recognize the unique. I swung the lens around to see the unique walk belonging to this Common Snipe foraging. Wow!
While it’s name contains Common, it’s anything but common! You can hear and see them in flight overhead but just seeing them foraging out in the open is anything but common. Knowing it was there, I instantly approached it to photograph it. As you can see, the light and habitat was picture perfect for this cryptic critter. I never was able to be a bigger image size than you see here, it kept its distance, but these were the first photos I have EVER taken of a Snipe foraging (I had a couple of “post” shots and that all) in my three decades. The bottom photo told me its a female. Why? There was a male flying overhead wanting to court and when she heard it, she took this posture. Your photography has to incorporate all basics but to get those special moments, your mind has to have much more info you can draw on for those special moments. You gotta ask yourself, are you ready for sneak attacks?
When I’m down at the river working with the Cliff Swallows, this Eared Grebe keeps me company. I know it has a nest somewhere nearby but its mate must be on it since it I’ve never seen it go to it. How do I know it’s the same grebe? Look at it, see that worm looking thinking coming from its bill, that’s its tongue. If you look, the bottom mandible is broken and part of it is hanging down. If you look at the overall condition of the grebe, it looks like it’s been beaten up. What caused the damage has me asking what happened?
At the same time I wondered is the damage was enough to cause its eventual death. Grebes are divers, going underwater and chasing little fish that they have to catch to feed themselves. As you can see, this guy had no problem in that department! That’s a trout fry its got there, what I fish for in the very same river! Shooting with the D4, (including Di-GPS) Nikon 800f5.6 AFS on Auto Area AF, I track it as if fishes basically at my feet and this little dude is bloody successful! So while I wonder what caused the damage, I have no doubt it will survive. Now just to find its nest and photograph its young when they’re riding on its back. That’s the next challenge!
For decades the Cliff Swallows have been nesting on this 1920′s bridge structure. The roadway is long gone but the supports remain making great structures for the mud nests of the swallows. I work the colony every spring, arriving at sunrise and shooting for a short period until the light gets hard (which is about 25min). I’ve tried a whole bunch of techniques over the years but have yet to get the photos I have in my mind.
Using my basic bird photography rig: D4, (including Di-GPS) Nikon 800f5.6 AFS (w/TC800-25e), on the Gitzo 5561SGT w/ Wimberley Head (w/ RRS Quick Release mount attached). All this rig was perched on the edge of the river about 20-30′ away from the three structures holding the colony. The “trick” is to photograph the biology while minimizing the tremendous glare from the mud nests. If only our afternoon thunderstorms would form at sunrise, I’d have it easy but such is not the case.
There is a couple of aspects of the colony that are really attractive. First if you’re shooting at eyelevel with the nests which is special. Normally you have to shoot up on them. Second is the blue background, the water of the river that is just three feet below the nests. And as you can see, there is plenty of biology going on. From just hanging out at the colony to bringing in nesting material and the bottom photo, competition amongst each other. While you’re reading this, I’m at the river again trying to improve on what I’ve taken before and photograph what I’ve missed.
We see it, or rather don’t hear it when we go to our favorite meadow. It’s a sound of spring that means something to me but is slipping away. If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, here’s a piece that tells some of the story. This CA Red-legged Frog, a listed species is one that is in trouble and I would truly hate to see it disappear.
A really common bird in the lower 48 is the Greater Yellowlegs. Like nearly all shorebirds we see in the winter, the Yellowlegs is a gray, drab bird that the vast majority of the time get ignored. Gray and tan is, gray and tan. But once they get up north to their breeding grounds, they are simply spectacular! So whenever we see them, we get out of the van and set up the gear. Setting up the gear is a ritual we all now do in our sleep. You do it that much since you can’t drive down the dusty roads with it set up to go. It only takes seconds (unless you’re using flash than add a couple of seconds) to get Gitzo 5561SGT w/ Wimberley Head(w/ RRS Quick Release mount attached) is the Nikon 800f5.6 AFS (w/TC800-25e) and D4 in place to shoot.
One of the really cool things shorebirds do up in Churchill in spring is to top the small Spruce trees. Be it to get a view of their territories, rivals, potential mates or predators, up they go. The thing of it is, they don’t have the feet to perch so it’s a balancing act the entire time. That’s where the fun begins. This is when the motordrive really helps.
And then are those times when you have a cool scene but not the greatest light. That’s when the SB-900 / BetterBeamer / SD9 comes out. You lose your motordrive because the flash just doesn’t have the power to keep up with motordrive, so you have to pick your shots. You gotta watch and when you see the preening or just standing up, you know a wing stretch is coming. You either take off your teleconverter (which means you keep the caps in your pocket all the time) or move back so when the wings go up, you don’t cut them off. Moving back lower your flash power so I go with the removing of the teleconverter which means you now have power for two shots rather than one. But no matter where you are, when you stop and roll down the window, you will hear the Greater Yellowlegs calling. Who I think of as the official greeter of the north.
What is it about Churchill birds that excites me so? What is it about Churchill birds that get’s me up early and keeps me up late? What is it about Churchill birds that has me standing in snow with my hands numb taking technically bad images of a species I have already in my files? It’s the celebration of life you see in every square inch that is the tundra in Churchill. I don’t know if you’ve watched the news of late, or have friends critically ill, or know of someone who is really hurting, but it’s a part of life that for us all at some times, get’s pretty heavy. Then there I am standing in heaven watching these cool little birds doing their spring thing through a lens with really no honest problems other than being nuts. Here’s a couple of clicks from tonight at The Ponds of a Red-necked Phalarope doin his thing. Not great clicks by any stretch but we photographers see lots on both sides of life and we tend to put ourselves in places and in front of things most others are not as fortunate to do. Why do we do it? There are lots of reasons but I tend to think it’s really pretty simple once you cut through it all. It’s a celebration of life!
Oh my..so far behind in stories from the far north. There is a movie being filmed, in Churchill, now, of all things (Midnight Sun is the title) so the bandwidth is like zip so impossible to blog last 36hrs and I’m bursting at the seem to the point that the first sentence I get to type is this massive run on sentence so I think I’ll catch my breath!
I so wanted to improve my Hudsonian Godwit images and what was one of the first shorebirds we found? Yeap, Hudsonian Godwits, a mated pair. Hot Dogs! So, with the D4, 800 w/TC800-24e attached, we started our approach about 80yards out. To break the ice or as I think of it, break the jinx, I shoot a ways out. I also do this to let the subject get use to my coming. Once I take some shots, watch the subject, I start to slowly move up. It’s about now I start getting excited about the possibilities.
With a mated pair, where she goes he goes especially at this point when there is no nest. So we first saw the female, the paler of the two. I no sooner said, “It’s a female be on the watch out for the male” when the male popped out. That beautiful brick red breast is simply spectacular so click, click, click we went.
And so we continued. We would move up closer, click, click, click. We would move up closer, click, click, click until we got to the distance desired and we could work the pair. They were very much in love which meant they totally ignored us. That was great! I was able to blow away my previous images of Hudsonian Godwits. I posted on Facebook & G+ (a couple of nights ago before we lost the internet) that I really like. I wanted to post those leading up to that shot to give you a little of what it took to get that final shot of the male I really like. There is sooooo much more to share, will as the internet allows.
We’re up in the spectacular north, Churchill, Manitoba Canada. K&M Adventure is here I know for birds, but one lesson I learned long ago in Churchill, when you see cool ice, SHOOT IT! That’s because the wind can completely change it in a matter of minutes. This is the defrosting Hudson Bay and the blue is the fresh water that has melted and and pooled on its surface. I simply love the pattern it makes. I shot with the D4 & 80-400 (top frame) and than switched to the 800mm (bottom two) to get tighter on the pattern. And sure enough, a few hours after these were taken and it had all changed. But is was our first stop for the day and a great start to the week up north.
There is one thing in this world I’m the best at, and that’s sitting on a rock staring at a hole in the ground for 18hrs to get the photo. Well, today I started a new pursuit, all the same thing except looking at a nest at the top of a tree. Other than the pointed rock pushing my underwear in a place it ought not be, it was a great, great perch to watch life! I started working a Red-tailed Hawk nest this week not too far from our home. I’ve not photographed a raptor nest in detail for its duration ever in my career and I’m very excited this just might be the year. And to say it’s a challenge and one I’m already really liking is an understatement!
The first challenge is reaching my perch to see into their perch. As you can see in the photo, I’ve gotta hike up the road and than climb up the hill to be able to get this great view right into the nest which is at the top of a gorgeous Jeffrey Pine. I climb with all the gear set up to go. Perched on top of the Gitzo 5561SGT w/ Wimberley Head(w/ RRS Quick Release mount attached) is the Nikon 800f5.6 AFS (w/TC-25e) and Nikon D4. Why climb with all that on my shoulder? Because climbing with a photopack and tripod and than trying to set it all up on a hillside scares the crap out of me! Once in place on my rock perch, I sat, watched and thought. I’m about 200′ from the nest once I’m at my rock ledge. The best part about nest photography is the time not shooting when life forces me to just watch. And that’s what I did for hours, watch three 10-14day old chicks sleep and defecate. Life gets no better!
I am often asked why I use the Gitzo 5561SGT which is an expensive 12′ tripod when I’m only 6′. This is a perfect example why. I need to shoot at eyelevel even when on the side of the hill. By extending the two legs down slope an extra leg section, I can stand behind the tripod and not be all bent over. When you’re working a situations like this for hours and hours, being bent over is simply back breaking. At the same time, stability of the whole rig is sacrificed when you’re bent over. It was already windy, the tree swaying. But when you zoom in (using the link above), you’ll see that the Gitzo provided the 800mm w/TC.25e (1000mm!) a very stable platform so it could deliver its blistering sharp quality. So I watched, shot video and photographed the nest and the adult coming in and feeding the kids a snake. I’ve had a great beginning and can’t wait until the next time I’m there and finishing up this fun project. mtc
It was a gorgeous weekend to be in the Eastern Sierra and we had a great group of photographers join us for our Mono Lake Weekend. And as what seems to be going with the weather this year, what should have been a stormy, moody weekend turned out to be a clear, warm weekend. Such is often the case when you plan a trip a year in advance but you’ve gotta make the most of what Mother Nature hands you. So, we worked the Tufas of Mono Lake with the bald skies.
How to you make the most of bald skies? That’s one damn good question. The first is, get over the fact you have bald skie. It can be a real mental bummer so you gotta get over it. Next, you need to work with the light you have. In this case, there was a moment just as the sun crested the horizon that the Tufas had that magical touch of warmth. It’s just a second so you gott move fast and work with that moment. For that moment, I set the WB to cloudy A6 to warm up the light. I underexposed and used a Schenider 3 stop split grad attached to 18-35AFS on the D4. Understand, you are working to make lemonade out of lemons, so pulling out tools, techniques and experimenting is all part of the process. You have nothing to loose, right?,/p>
And then as I’ve done many times, when the light gets hard and the skies are bald, it’s time for star bursts from the sun. The 18-3AFS does a good job when closed down all the way to create a cool pattern. Now it does help if you remember to clean the front element of dust which I forgot, again, to avoid UFOs. The D4 with its 6 stop range makes these image pretty darn simple. And I like simple when I have bald skies, I’m already thinking enough trying to make the photo happen.
Sharon & I had NO idea that Gas Town was part of Vancouver or just how cool it is! This is a building they called the “Flat Iron” which I have no idea is related in any way to the Flat Iron bldg in NYC, but it’s really cool. I didn’t have as much time here at the square as I would have liked. There is a whole photo essay to be shot here over time which I would love to have the opportunity to do. Then there are the people of Gas Town. These two girls were a hoot! Sitting inside grabbing a bite, I saw them as we passed and knew I had to make a click. Shooting with the 18-35AFS, I walked up to the outside of the window, smiled, pointed to my lens and then to them and made the body gesture if OK. They smiled and shook their heads so I asked to put their head together and made the click. The folks were so darn friendly and jovial, it was just a great time!
Sharon & I had an absolutely marvelous weekend in Vancouver, CA at the PPOC conference! On Saturday, we went out with a bunch of brave folks (going on a photowalk in a city with a wildlife photographer) to Gas Town. Now, if you’ve never been to Vancouver, you gotta wander what Gas Town or its fantastic Blood Alley. Well, on the way there, we walked through some of the gorgeous architecture that is downtown Vancouver. The clouds were very cooperative adding to the great reflections.
The first question I get is, “What lenses?” I went really simply, shooting with the 18-35AFS and 80-400AFS exclusively on the D4. Both lenses lent themselves perfectly to the photowalk especially the 80-400 with its small size yet long reach. Isolating patterns, textures, people was what I was looking for and came back with some images that I really enjoy. The walk was cool but the folks were killer. Now I’ve not seen any of the photos taken when I posed with a Moose yet, but that’s probably better that way. That’s a whole other story! mtc
That’s what I was saying in my mind, just 5 more minutes! The gale winds were building and being at the highest point in Bermuda (which really isn’t saying much) to photograph its lighthouse, the winds were already whipping us. But not knowing when I might be back again, I wanted to add this lighthouse to my growing collection of lighthouse photos from around Northern Hemisphere. But as you can see in the top photo, the two main elements I wanted in the photo, light and the clouds just weren’t clicking. Shooting with the D4 with the 18-35AFS I got in position and made the first click. That’s because I didn’t know if I had 5min or if the conditions would get better. Then, the clouds changed and the light came out and I jumped, closer and to the left to make the click. Na, it’s not an award winning photo. I simply wanted the best I could make with the moment I had. In my early years, I was the classic, “panic shooter” moving every which way trying to make all the great shots. With age and failure, I have vastly slowed down simply look for the one good shot that might lead to the great shot. With time, please.
Well…I’m no longer in NE, off on another project but didn’t want to leave you hanging. After that amazing sunset the night before, it got real quite outside the blind. Just so you understand, they lock you in the blind at 16:30 and don’t let you out until the next morning around 09:30. You spend the WHOLE time in the blind, there is no going back to a warm hotel room (it got down to 18 at night). So you sleep right next to the river and normally, you can hear the cranes call all night long. Once cranes land at night, they start to wander, walking about and often, they walk hundreds of years up or down the river. When I woke up around 03:00 and didn’t hear them anymore, I had my doubts and sure enough, when the dawn’s light started to light up the sky, we looked out the blind to see the river in front of us, empty. That’s happens but doesn’t mean you’re toast.
This is my expression when they open the door on the blind…freedom! Even though there are no cranes standing in front of you, they fly overhead as they take off for the fields. So with the D4 connected to the 80-400VR3 I kept shooting the cranes as they peeled off. It was simply a great morning and a great experience. Want to thank Pastor Mark for again, a great time and having the in on selecting the best blind each night!
First there are a couple of cranes and then ……
there are thousands! It’s such an epic, spiritual, beautiful site. It all unfolds in a matter of 30min and then it’s dark!
The photography is pretty straight forward. Seeing the light unfold, I grabbed the D4 connected to the 80-400VR3. I grabbed the D4 because I saw the conditions and knew they would change fast so I wanted the 10FPS. The clouds while partly made from contrails, were still going to give color and the cranes would be moving through the small patch of color quickly. While on the topic of color, I’ve noticed some on the boards suggesting it came from Photoshop. I would highly suggest that those not understanding what Cloudy White Balance in combination with -1 comp go out and try it. You might just find that you don’t need Photoshop for color, just a little photographic fundamentals in your pocket!
As it happens, great sunset often leads to…not so great sunrises…at least as the color goes. Without those clouds and a little prairie dust, the sun comes up just like any place else. That’s OK though, the Cranes provide lots of magic. Here’s a couple clicks from this morning’s lift off. Birds with the falling water levels were further away then I like but that’s OK too! I shot with the D800 and the 80-400VR3 (D800 had a firmware drop today BTW) when I didn’t simply just sit and watch. Honestly, it’s a spectacle EVERYONE should witness once in their lives. mtc…
At a stimulating 20 degrees in the blind, my fingers are barely functioning right now outside the warmth of my gloves. But I’ve just gotta share the magnificent flyin tonight on the Platte River, NE. The Lesser Sandhill Cranes are simply the most amazing critter in migration as they seem to celebrate every moment in the air and on the ground together. Shooting with the D800 and the 80-400VR3 (which did a FANTASTIC job!), we had about 20min of thousands of cranes coming in as the sun set. Shooting in Cloudy at -1, I pumped the colors up a tad but what you see is what we saw about a hour ago. Now, we’re locked in the blind until about 10am tomorrow and the temps seem to be dropping and the wet chill settles in. That’s OK though, I love going to sleep in the warm sleeping bag listening to the cranes sing outside. mtc…