It’s summer time and the afternoon thunderstorms are rolling through. I love it! Is there a trick to lightning photography? These days, you can capture the bolt pretty darn easily with tools like Ligthning Trigger, which permit you to capture the bolts even during daylight hours and not even touch the camera. And that’s when I think some of the best lightning images are made. Like many aspects of photography, just capturing the “one” aspect doesn’t make it a good photo. Just capturing a lightning bolt in itself doesn’t make a good photo. It’s just the subject and like all photographs, elements around it should support it. What are those elements? In the top photo, it’s the glow of the bright skies that are behind the storm. Summer thunderstorms typically are “regional” so getting to their edge, there is bright skies behind them that can light up the clouds giving them a unique glow all their own.
Some of the strongest are simply clean landscape photos that can stand on their own without the lightning bolt. My favorite which is above was taken many years ago in Montana at sunset. The great color is courtesy of a forest fire and by simply turning the camera to follow the fast moving storm, the Lightning Trigger did the rest of the work. The “tricks” to this is first staying dry because often you’re in the rain. I have a large, golfer’s umbrella we use. It has a carbon fiber post that in theory help prevents being struck but lightning. And that is a concern you need to take into consideration. The other “trick” if there is one is to underexpose by at least one stop. It doesn’t lower the intensity of the bolt but the rest of the scene which then makes the bolt look brighter. Lastly, never leave home without your Lightning Trigger because the moment you do, you will witness the most amazing lightning storm, ever!
Like most in the west, even the Sierra got warm this past weekend, getting up to 86 which is warm for 8000′. The new shooting gallery is getting more and more active which is fun. Over the weekend chipmunk love found it. It’s that time of year when the Panamint Chipmunks find each other and in the process, make baby chipmunks. It’s fun to watch them as they watch each other looking for a partner. Their tails just go nuts wiggling with excitement. This female took a breather resting on the roof of one of our nesting boxes as the males circled below. Shooting with D4 / 800mm, it’s a test of my panning, vertical panning as they go up and down the tree trunk using them like a vertical highway. But it’s a ton of fun and permitted me to stay inside and cool and still shoot.
Have I ever told you, I really hate bald skies! But what is one to do when you have bald skies? Gotta make lemonade as I see it. So with all the annual hoopla over the “big moon” I thought I would make the sun into the moon. How? Shoot right at it, closing the aperture all the way down and underexpose. Then went to a landscape that would support that “moon” like feel leaving the viewer asking, “Is it the moon or the sun?” Shooting with the D4 with 16Fish attached, I did just that. Then in the DD, I used ACR to “straighten” out the Fish. The only real thought given to the image was the landscape, (Horseshoe Lake during the drought), the shoreline and placement of the sun. Won’t go on my wall but was fun and being about getting skunked behind the camera beats anything else I can think of!
I have this really well earned reputation for getting up really early for a photograph. And it is well earned, I do just that, a lot! Yesterday morning was no exception because this time of year, the sunrise is really early and traveling up to 10,000 to greet the day, 04:00 was the time. Now you’ve not probably done exactly that, I have no doubt though you’ve been up early at some point for a shot. You’ve also probably had the same results as we did. You’re there, the mosquitos are there but the light, it was nowhere to be found. Don’t worry, the sun did rise but there was no magic, no pop, no drama. It just did it’s usual thing, it came up with no ceremony. So, what do you do?
Shooting with the D4 and 80-400VR3, I actually ended up spending more time playing with the iPhone at times than the D4. Why, well, been there done that at Minaret Vista a few hundred times before. Why? It’s literally my backyard, we can be there in minutes. Why go back to the same place over and over again when, I knew at 04:00 it was going to be blah? OK, photographically it was blah but for the soul, it’s an amazing WOW! And being the only ones up there, we knew the rest of the world didn’t know about it. When you can take a photo with your iPhone and thousands of folks can instantly experience what it was we were experiencing. Now how cool is that? And that’s partly why I’m posting this rather ho hum photos because, you weren’t there and you don’t know how amazing it can be. You only know what’s contained in the photos presented you and that’s the point. Even when it might be blah blad to us, those not with us, it is really possible it is amazing and that’s one of the great gifts of photography. When we share, we just never really know the impact the simplest photo content might have on someone. Sharing is just as important as getting out at 04:00 when it comes to photography. So, get out, shoot and share this weekend. Your blah (and hope you don’t have blah) might just be the light someone needs that day!
The extra reach of the 800mm got my mind to thinking. Heading to another window in the office, I stood, watched, thought and acted on making that view a shooting gallery just for the 800mm. So, I got out the big stick again and went back to pruning Kelby Training style quickly making a great path for shooting. I no sooner got cleaned up and back in the office and behind the D4 and a good lookin Cassin’s Finch landed right I had just cleared out a bunch of sticks.
I’m shooting with the straight 800mm and as you can see, got a great image size. Being spring, the male’s have a nice glow to the head and breast and this was a pretty good lookin male, so I spent some time with it. The best part was there was a little kiss of light filtering through the pine boughs. I was very pleased that so quickly the new shooting gallery was producing.
Now the Cassin’s Finch is a real, dirt common species, nothing special. So the goal as always was to make the uncommon out of the common. I didn’t get there this first attempt but with a start like this, I have high hopes. It was just great to be back with my friends and being able to share them with you.
Well life has finally landed be back in home, for more than a day. So the first order of business was to get the shooting gallery all up to snuf. This meant doing two things, get out my big stick and break off all the little sticks (Kelby Training style) so I have my clean foregrounds/backgrounds. That took a little while and with the addition of the 800mm to the shooting gallery, a little deeper pruning. Once that was done, time to get back behind the camera.
Since I hadn’t done any serious gallery shooting at the office with the 800mm, I set it up first on my woodpecker post. I didn’t take time to set up lights, I just wanted to get back into the swing of the critters. Spring has sprung and there are kids about so parents are real busy. First up to bat is the Red-shafted Flicker which came in to say hello. Next was on of the new Hairy Woodpecker chicks that just fledged from the nest in the front yard last weekend. I took a couple of shots of it and than slowly walked up to it. I was about three feet away when I stopped. It just watched me, begged when dad landed, got fed by dad and than flew off with dad. Dad came in to the food with me there because I did the same thing with him when he was young. It was a good morning to be back in the shooting gallery. I got an idea for a new feeder so I started to gather the materials for that idea. Fun in the backyard, life is good.
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!