They are predicting our first snowfall in the Sierra this weekend. Not that it will stick, but snow means lower temps and lower temps along with the shorter days triggers critters into winter mode. Talking with folks around No America, it would seem the Farmer’s Almanac is right. We’re in for a wet, long winter and it’s just starting. As wildlife photographers, we need to take note of this and prepare accordingly. When it comes to birds, migration is in full swing in most regions and the numbers heading south at one time seem greater than normal. This can produce extra drama you might not have seen in the last few years.
While it might be obvious, just wanted to point out that traditional migration stops for waterfowl and shorebirds might be the place to be the next month. Some are saying the birds might head further south this winter, a combination of the winter prediction and climate change. With that comes the assumption that they might stay fewer days in their traditional stop over locations. This means we might have a smaller window to photograph this incredible spectacle that is part of our wild heritage. My suggestion is if you don’t own long glass, you contact BorrowLenses.com and get one reserved. When it comes to looking at dates, try to find a time around the full moon as that tends (weather dependent) to increase activity during migration. And where to go?
These images of Lesser Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese were taken at Bosque del Apache, a mecca for fall bird photography. But there are LOTS of locations around No America you can tap. Personally, I start by looking at the Birding Hotlines for my area to see what birders are seeing. Spending your time behind a lens rather than travel makes the most sense to me because one day a pond could be empty and the next day overflowing. Another great resource to finding congregations of birds are hunters. While the birds might be more wary, often they will land just outside the hunting zone which provides you a shooting (with camera) opportunity. Do your homework now, think through gear and location and you’ll have a great fall shooting!
OK, you had a great weekend of shooting and now it’s Monday and you’re back to work, now what? It’s no time to stop! I know, you’re at work, how can photography continue when you’re at work? Here’s some thoughts:
Phew…where did the day go…now what do you do for Tuesday?
It’s the end of August, I always regret when it rolls around. Besides the obvious meaning, the end of summer (and this has been a great summer), it means a couple of other things. One is the fall teaching season is coming up, the means lots meeting a whole bunch of you! That’s one reason I got the new Mac. It also means see fall colors again, such a romantic time to be shooting. The other implication is on the immediate shooting in the Eastern Sierra. We’ve had a couple of days of great clouds, but when it comes to wildlife and landscapes, photography can be really hard to find. And when you do find it, the light might be hard and the feathers and fur pretty warn. You know when I point my lens towards plants, I’m really trying to find something to photograph. In the deep shadows along a creek, found this pattern of nature on one of our evening walks. I liked the pattern, that’s about it. Just a few more weeks and all hell will break out. Lookin forward to it!
Today turned out to be a great day at the feeders, the baby Douglas Tree Squirrels made their first visit. They are so much fun to watch as they try to figure out their way in the world. There were three of them and after they scurried up the tree and in the feeder, they were instant enemies. Douglas Tree Squirrels don’t like sharing their food source with anybody, that includes siblings. Well, the three of them argued verbally the whole time they ate. They did this with their mouths full no less! And as you see here, they sat with their backs to each other as if that would make their siblings disappear.
My biggest photographic problem was to shoot stills or video! I was sitting on a bar stool behind the D4 and 600f4VR2 with my morning cup of coffee watching and shooting. The activity was deserving of video because of all the action and chatter, but mom was the best show. Since she was perched about 20″ above the feeders, I figured I didn’t have the skill to pan up and down while shooting video so went all stills. Glad I did, got some great stuff of mom. The kids, not so much because they were in the feeder and I just don’t like seeing the feeder in the photo. There is always tomorrow for better of them. You might be wondering why I didn’t use flash. I really don’t like flash on Douglas Tree Squirrels, too many specular highlights in their fur.
And where was mom during all of this? Well, I don’t think she could believe what she was seeing!
Last week I wondered about doing some remote video shooting. Hadn’t tried it before so started to work out the system. We had cloudy, thunderstorm weather all weekend and I needed to keep my nose to the keyboard to finish my new book. So remote triggering was essential. Setting up on an immature Allen’s Hummer that has taken possession of one of our feeders, I trained the 70-180mc attached to the D4 with Pocket Wizard IIIs as the trigger. The D4 had Custom Setting g4 set to Shutter release so whenever I wanted to start or stop the video, I just depressed the Test button on the Pocket Wizard. This also got me working on some shoots for this coming week with the Kelby Training crew coming in to film my next class.
The taping went pretty smoothly. My only issue was not totally paying attention a loosing track when I pushed the button to start or stop the tapping. I had to go out to the camera a few times and see where I was in the process. After I was all done, I realized I could have hooked up my Ninja2 to a long HDMI cable and monitored the action remotely. What you see here are five segments edited together in Photoshop CS6. Taking the individual segments and editing each down, drop in the Cross Fade, render the video and upload took less than 30min. I have to admit that I am enjoying video a whole lot more now that creating a finished can be so fast and simple. Enjoy!
The emails are starting to come in asking what I think this fall will be like in the Eastern Sierra. Great fall color depends on lots of moisture and a good cold snap. Too early to predict the cold snap but we know we’re not getting much moisture. We’re having great clouds but they’ve not shed a drop to help. So we’ll have some great pockets of color in locations where this is water, lakes and major streams, but I don’t think we’ll have the huge blankets of color that are so spectacular. I can tell you a Kelby Training class on shooting fall color is due out shortly that we shot last fall. And I’ll be on the east coast and in the Sierra this fall looking for that color. Hope to see ya amongst the trees!
Back in the day, one of the things to do was photograph a particular scene four times a year to demonstrate the change of seasons. At the time, I lived on California’s Central Coast where there were only two seasons. So I traveled throughout CA on the look out for a location that had four seasons I could travel to and make the shot. I was particularly looking for a great tree that I could focus on which would have that great fall color for one of the seasons. For over a decade, I was obsessed.
And thirty years later, I still don’t have the great scene! This is the closest I’ve come. This lone tree on the edge of Mono Lake has a classic shape, exactly what I was looking for so I started to follow it. The major problem is there is no real spring in the sage and in the fall, there always seems to be a big blow that removes all the leaves before they have an opportunity to turn all orange. When I was in school, we were encouraged to create an Idea File, a file where we would include ideas of photographs on what today folks would say are on their bucket list. This is one that still is in my file and on my list.
This is our FAVORITE time to be home in the Sierra. That’s because all the babies are out and right now, the yard is busting open with kids! We’ve got our biggest crop of Stellar Jays ever I swear. When someone calls the office, they all comment on all the background noise caused by these kids. The Evening Grosbeaks fledglings are the most ever as well. And now the Hummers have shown up in force. What we’re not seeing are the chipmunk and squirrel kids, we’ve not seen a one. And of course, we have that Black Bear cubs like you see here. We have one that I swear as learned that just walking up and down the road gets all the neighborhood dogs upset. It does it all the time to a chorus of barking. The D4 with 300f4AFS is always out and left on because of all the activity. I get lost of exercise because every 10 minutes I’m up looking out all the windows to see what’s up. And the 600mm is on a tripod with the D800 looking out ground level waiting for the baby chipmunks to appear. It’s simply a great time to be home shooting in the backyard!
“When are you taking folks to Yellowstone again?” This is a real common question that we get asked. It is definitely one of the most gorgeous locations on the planet in winter! But for me, it’s got to be winter to make it worth while going. What do I mean by that? For me, Yellowstone is great in winter when it’s -10 or colder. When it’s warmer then that like during our last trip in 2011 when the average temp was 19, lots of things just don’t happen. For example, the Bison don’t have half of Yellowstone stuck on their fur like you see here. The trees don’t have the hoar frost and steam frozen on them. There’s not much snow so the critters can spread out over the park rather then having to be gathered around the springs for warmth and open ground to forage. I don’t think this coming winter will have enough -10 or colder days to predict what days it will have to be in place to get the shots. So it’s going to be at least another year before we take folks back to Yellowstone in the winter. We do miss it so!
If you do, then run! Run to find a great foreground and subject to put with them. Clouds have the magic to transform the common into uncommon just by their very being. The key is to place your subject in the clouds but not letting the clouds overcome the subject. You want to use the clouds to give the imagination to roam and then bring the mind’s eye back down to the subject. This requires not only a great shape but also highlights and shadows that move the eye through the frame. In this process, you might have to use a split grad and the point of capture and Curves in post to manipulate those highlights and shadows. But if you have clouds, you have photographic gold!
Like most of the US, it’s hot here in Mammoth the last couple of days, it’s hit 84 (I know that’s not really hot). I don’t like hot, I really don’t! Sharon and I went and say our good friends in KS and that was hot. Then we went to Phoenix for a project and it was 111, but as CNN published today, these are by no means records.
The world’s highest recorded air temperatures
1. El Azizia, Libya (136 degrees Fahrenheit)
2. Death Valley, California (134)
3. Ghadames, Libya (131)
3. Kebili, Tunisia (131)
5. Timbuktu, Mali (130)
5. Araouane, Mali (130)
7. Tirat Tsvi, Israel (129)
8. Ahwaz, Iran (128)
8. Agha Jari, Iran (128)
10. Wadi Halfa, Sudan (127)
A bigger issue though is not the heat wave but drought which has a grip on much of the country.
If you’re a wildlife photographer, this is something you can take advantage of while doing critters a favor. Water features not only help critters get through the heat, but is a free way you can attract critters to come right up to you lens. Think about light, background and approach and build your pool today. You’ll soon have friends. It’s a great weekend project.
Those who know me know I love history and my bud Kevin knows this really well. So we got in the car and headed up to Abilene and the Eisenhower Presidential Library. The adventure turned out to be a double header because at the Library is the Smithsonian traveling exhibit Elvis at 21. This is an exhibit from 8 days of photography of Elvis by 28yrs old photographer Alfred Wertheimer (AW) in the days of film with available light. The smallest print was 30×40 and they were all stunning! What a killer start.
A native Abilene, it was easy to understand quickly many of the decisions Eisenhower made first as a general in WWII and than president. The top photo is of his and Mamie’s resting place. Next is a photo of the home where Eisenhower grew up, the informal parlor looking into the formal parlor. If the rooms look small, they are! It was pointed out a number of times the home was on the wrong side of the tracks, the family of 8 lived in a small home but it was a happy home with simple, basic old fashion values. The Eisenhower’s raised very successful kids with Dwight being the top of the list. The bottom photo is the home itself. The home & museum took us hours to walk through, see and learn, great place to spend an afternoon.
All three of these photos are five image HDR, shot with the D800 with MB-D12 and 24f1.4 AFS with the HDR being done in CS6 using Nik HDR Pro. Looking at these images, you might be wondering why I used HDR. At least, I think you should be wondering why and at the same time thinking, “They don’t look like HDR.” The top image, the exposure range from stain glass windows to the marble floor was too great for one click. The middle image, I wanted those green shrubs to come through the drapes and the light that falls off through the room to come through. That couldn’t be done with one click. And the bottom image, why HDR there? See that deep shadow of the tree on the right, I didn’t want to loose that detail and with one click, you’d see a white bldg and that’s it. I wanted the warm summer day to come through. It was another great day learning about our own history with some good photography added for good measure. Life is good!
The Great Hall at the Nat’l Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum is simply amazing! The huge murals, one in each corner are simply spectacular! This one of lower Yellowstone Falls is one I would love to have in my house, if it was the size of s football field. After asking a museum volunteer if I could shoot in the room and being told it was OK (a big function was going on), I started thinking. I wanted to show that size in the photo, how do you do that? Gotta have something for scale and there is nothing better than a person. Going to the other side of the room, I shot with the 50f1.4AFS to keep lines as straight as possible. Then I had Sharon stand as you see her with a gesture saying one thing about viewing these gorgeous paintings.
Then we had Chris stand as you see him here with a totally different body gesture making a totally different statement. I really like them both, each saying differently about the impact these paintings can have on an individual. The photos taken with the D800 at ISO 1600 are simple clicks right out of the camera. I stood there looking at this mural for a long time, could stand there looking at them for a whole lot longer. I strongly urge you to go there, stand, and take them in for a long time as well!
If you are a lover of light, if you want to improve your landscape photography, it you want to be transported back to a different time, you must go to the Nat’l Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, OK. My good bud Kevin took us there while we were in Wichita and I’m so glad he did! This is a marvelous place we spent four hours touring, taking in our heritage and the art celebrating it!
Being partly a art museum, there are places where you can’t take pictures and that’s the way it should be. You should take hours just looking at the landscapes and the way they paint the light falling on it. Some of my favorite paintings are hanging on these walls, the originals that you can just stand there and take in. There are oils, watercolors, pencil, bronze, just a marvelous collection to get lost in. Then there is the western native American art section which is spectacular (you see here). Then you wonder into the western movie section, history section and on and on. It’s just marvelous!
Then there is the western town they’ve built inside for you to explore. You see here a ISO 1600, 5 frame HDR from the D800. The town is lit as if midnight and being display lighting, HDR was called for (no tripod, handheld). This is a museum for the senses that you just have to get to, I can’t recommend it enough! Oh yeah…shot with the 50f1.4AFS at ISO 1600 the whole time, love that lens!
How do you express scale in a photograph? I could include a dime, what we do in wildlife photography but I just have this feeling you might not even see it. That’s when I start messing with your mind as I think about it, story telling is a nicer and more common way to think about it. The subject, what you’ve always have to establish in your photograph, in this case are the clouds releasing their snow on the Mono Hills (actually extinct volcanoes). To make the clouds appear much bigger than they really are, I included those peaks far of in the distance.
The bigger the peaks seem, the bigger the storm so that’s what I focus in on. Both images were taken with the D4 and 70-200VR2 (using the D4 Landscape Profile which I’m really liken) with only two slight changes between the two photos. The top image was taken from the ground at 120mm with the cloud not fully casting a cloud on the foreground. The bottom image was taken standing on a bench at 155mm four minutes later when the foreground was in shade.
We’re talking real subtle changes in taking the two images but to me there is a big visual difference between the two images. In the top photo, those two peaks appear more like they really are in life, kinda small. The bottom frame, those two peaks look much bigger then they really are. That in combination with shooting just a tad tighter makes the clouds, the subject, appear much more menacing and that’s the story telling. Both images were finished the same in ACR and then Nik’s Color Efex Pro 4 > Detail Enhancer on just the clouds. So the moral of all of this is take the extra second and use those simple put important elements to give your landscape scale and the visual impact will be much greater!
That’s all that’s needed to communicate in a landscape photo you’ve got big clouds. Here’s an example. This is Mono Lake a couple of weeks ago when a storm blew through. The clouds are the subject and I want to say they fill the sky. The slope around Mono Lake to the south has a real slant to it and with the light falling the way it was, it is really dark. The lake itself though is a silver sliver. These are color photographs, not B&W. So I prefer the bottom image with just a sliver of lake and then the slope supporting the rest of the photo. I’ve got some more examples of what I’m talking about I’ll post later.
By the third day of our K&M Adv in SD, we’d chased clouds a bunch. The activity was amazing with the moisture in the air and the heat coming off the landscape. The formations I’ve already posted demonstrate just how dynamic the skies had been. It’s when we stopped for this formation that one of the adventurers came up to me and said, “I didn’t appreciate them before!” He went on to say he had always seen clouds but he had never really seen them as subjects, as sculptures floating around to be photographed.And when there is this much activity in the skies, fleeting!
We were driving down the road when Chris who was riding shotgun pointed up and smiled. Driving, I couldn’t see what he was seeing but knew to find a place to pullover. Everyone was driving with a camera in their lap since getting out “Chinese Fire Drill” fashion happened when on adventure. I got to see this great cloud, saw it’s dynamics and knew I had to move fast. I grabbed the 18mm and shot. The cloud itself is great, it has a shape that was very challenging though to me. While I love to photograph clouds, there has to be something with them. A foreground, some earthly anchor to give them scale and place. There really wasn’t a great one here and with clouds, it’s not like you can drive around until you find the right foreground. This cloud formation was gone in less then 10min. Pretty anger skies!
There are many ways you could finish such a photo and when I originally took it, I was thinking B&W. But when I got in on the monitor in ACR, I knew I needed that little bit of green at the bottom to tell just how angry this cloud was. The last piece of finishing then was in PS when I used Nik’s Color Efex Pro 4 > Detail Enhancer on just the clouds. It brought small details in the wisps that I think was needed. One of the highlights of the K&M Adventure for me is when the adventurer came up and said, “Now I see Clouds!”
The 400mm lens taught me so much about wildlife photography! I chronicle many of its lessons in my book Captured, the most important is getting close physically. If you are 60′ away from a subject and you get closer cutting the distance in half to 30′, you have more then doubled the focal length of your lens. And the best part, it didn’t cost you a dime! Then when you are closer, you have to think about the background to visually make the subject pop. You need to add to that light, gesture and color and you have the makings of a clean critter photo. That’s exactly what I did here with this Mountain Bluebird. Shooting with the D4 and 200-400VR2, I simply cut close physically to make the shot!
These are skills that take time in honing. And before you can hone them, you need to have the basics in which they work so you can hone them to fit your style of photography. That’s why we came up and are offering the Short Lens Wildlife Photography Course. Now it really doesn’t matter what lens you have, a 105, 70-200, 300, 400, 500, 600, the skill base that is required to make the shot is all the same. The only difference is the lens in you and what YOU want to say in your photograph. That’s what we’ll spend two days talking about, discussing and at times shooting. While this might be a classroom based course, we will have critters to photograph because that’s the only way I know of teaching and learning these important skills. So if you would like photographs like you see above or on this site in your library, come on tell and I’ll share all I know to help you make that happen! 760.924.8632, call today!