So, back in my room overlooking Bandon after a great dinner at The Loft, I’m typing away when the gray light is replaced by a golden glow. I look out to see a whole in the fog lets the setting sun stream through. I grab the D4 / 80-400VR3 and makes some clicks.
Now here’s the deal with these types of photos, not everyone likes them. They have no definitive subject and really depend on the mood and experiences of the viewer to work. They also lack a real defined black and that is a very important color. Now I like these images, don’t love them but I do like them. They are so full of atmosphere that can’ help by leave me with a warm feeling. But then again, they are my photos.
I’m up in Bandon, OR with my good friend Bob looking for shorebirds. It’s that time of year when the nesting shorebirds of the tundra head south and if you hit it just right, there’s not enough room in a photo to squeeze in a matchbook. The trick is, you’ve gotta see them! After putting in 12hrs, we had a break in the fog only to find a couple of Black-bellied Plovers and a Dowitcher before they were swallowed up again in the mist. This is a highly ify proposition, going after that one moment in nature to make the shot. But if you don’t try, you won’t get it. This is my first attempt at such a shot, going after one I saw back in the 80′s that I’ve always admired. And when you’re on the coast in pea soup, the logical thing to do is, find a lighthouse. Here’s the Cape Blanco Lighthouse where the volunteers said they hadn’t seen the sun, or the coast all day. A simple click, D4 / 18-35 processed in ACR and Perfect B&W. And tomorrow, we’ll start all over again with hopefully, less fog.
On my flight back from Oshkosh, our flight was deverted to the north of this huge storm over Missouri. It was quite a show! I pulled out my Coolpix S9100 and shot a couple of stills (a challenge with a Coolpix) and then shot the video. The storm was really talkin!
There is something good for the soul laying in the sand at the edge of the sea! It’s even better for one’s humility as you lie there with this giant lens and folks walk by, scare off the bird you’ve waited 20min to come close, than stop and ask, “Whatja doin?” I’ve been lyin on the beach for a long time and truly enjoy photographing shorebirds this way. And the Willit is a favorite subject of mine. It’s probably because of their personality which they seem to have tons of!
Why lie on the beach? While I like having sand between my toes, I don’t like a ton of it in my photo (or my gear for that matter). By getting down low, your depth of field is so narrow that the critter flies off the page. At the same time, when you get down low, the shorebirds tend to come right up to you. You have to pick your background carefully because once down, you’re committed for while. You can see this technique in action on my Kelby Shorebird class. Well, I used this same still technique to shoot the video. It worked out pretty well except those times when folks came up to ask that darn question!
Shooting with a D4 , 600VR2 with TC-14e attached (to maintain Auto Area AF) mounted on a Walt Anderson’s Panning Plate inside a freebie, the DP-6 made a HUGE difference in following action and smoothly especially with your neck all bent lying on the ground. Needing reading glasses these days, this really, really helps! This is an edited down from the 5hrs of video shot to just 5min. I did the editing on the iMac with all the vid residing on the ioSafe N2 and doing the editing right in Premiere Pro CS7. The final video once completed will be much longer than this clip. The goal is to show the comical, methodical approach they have to foraging the tide while maintaining their peaking order. They always leave me with a question, will it? Mother Nature is just amazing!
The great prairies of North America had to have been one of the greatest wildlife theaters on the planet in the early 1800s! You read the Lewis & Clark Journals, Edward Warren or Jedediah Smith and you can’t help but drop everything and head to our midwest to see what’s left for yourself. The one critter they talk about a lot in great reverence and romantically is the Pronghorn. I think it was that and knowing it’s our fastest mammal in North America first took me out to the Black Hills and Custer State Park to spend time with this majestic animal.
If you receive our BT Journal, you know who much I love to spend time with these critters since I have a whole issue on them. They are so connected to the prairie that everyday they live a slightly differently than the day before or they will tomorrow. This flow is what makes them great to just watch. It’s what makes photographing them not on a challenge, but incredibly rewarding. Now you can find Prong in many places throughout the US but I prefer Custer because the restrictions are not restricting. If a Prong walks right up to you, you don’t have to run, you can enjoy the moment and photograph them. And it’s very common when you stay in your vehicle and simply give them a moment, they will do just that! And they have great eyes!
Photographing Pronghorn I turn to my favorite combo: D4 , 200-400VR2 mounted on a Wimberley / Gitzo for the video. For the stills, I was inside the truck so handheld the rig. Still wanting to do a romantic video with zooming while shooting was in my mind but as you will see, I didn’t achieve that goal. But getting more serious about my video, I continued to use the DP-6 which makes a HUGE difference in following action and smoothly. This is an edited down video from the hour of video shot to just 5min. I did the editing on the iMac with all the vid residing on the ioSafe N2 and doing the editing right in Premiere Pro CS7. My only regret is that my video panning skills are not even up to the running of the Prong. I was stubborn and kept trying to do it with the long lens which is difficult, especially compared to shooting with a shooter lens. I’ve not given up though and with more practice, I’ll get that video I want to express the grace of these prairie critters. Mother Nature is just amazing!
Next to Moose & Griz, Bison fill my files more than any other mammal. Them “Shaggy dogs” just suck me in every time! The challenge is always to get something new, though what “new” might be until you’re in front of them is often a question mark in the process. This was my first opportunity to photograph Bison with the D4, that was what I was going to start with as my “new” this time out. May in the Black Hills of South Dakota is a great time. Especially at Custer State Park where the Bison are dropping their calves.
The herd is always on the move, even during calving season. It’s pretty simple biology, a whole bunch of mouths to feed and only so much grass. The system is pretty cool though because the Bison never mow down one spot to nothing. In a very generalized looking at a week of grazing, the Bison tend to be back at the same spot within 8 days. You could easily think of them as walking lawn mowers and the prairie responding to them like your lawn. It’s pretty simplistic compared to the color of them calves. I mean really, orange? They can walk almost seconds after birth and run within an hour, all to avoid predators. So you’d think with that evolution, they would have come up with a better color than orange. Photographically of course, the color is very cool. And watching calves, you can’t help but get hooked on Bison! On this morning, we were fortunate to be in the right spot as the herd, on the move came up a valley and rolled over the ridge and down in our direction at sunrise. It’s just one of natures’ great spectacles!
Shooting with a D4 , 200-400VR2 with TC-20E III mounted on a Wimberley / Gitzo, I wanted to see if I could do some fancy zooming while shooting. Getting more serious about my video, this is the first time I used the DP-6 which makes a HUGE difference in following action and smoothly. Shooting my first time with this rig, I was happy with the results but know a year later, they can get way better! This is an edited down from the 2hrs of video shot to just 4min. I did the editing on the iMac with all the vid residing on the ioSafe N2 and doing the editing right in Premiere Pro CS7. I wanted to convey the sweep of the herd coming over the ridge and down in front of us, kind of a “How the West was Won” kind of feel. I didn’t get it. I needed to be shooting with more than one camera. When I do it again, one thing I’ll seek is permission from the Rangers to drop some GoPros out on the ground. Mother Nature is just amazing!
Jake and I had been up on the Arctic Plain for a four days chasing the never before photographed Alaskan Marmot. As part of that project were getting photos by us of Hoary Marmots, a population not habituated. For example, you can basically pet the Hoary Marmots in Denali at Savage Rock as well as many other locations. The Hoary Marmot range is south of the Yukon River, the Alaska Marmot is north of the Yukon River but really now is just north side of the Brooks Range. Well, the biologists knew about this one Hoary Marmot colony not too far north of Fairbanks but way in the hell up a mountain and away from anybody. So Jake and I made the trek to spend time with them. The plan was to spend a couple of days at the colony.
The key phrase with this entire project is, “that was the plan.” Mother Nature has a mind of her own and when you combine that with politics and money, well nough said. Eating blueberries we picked as we climbed, we reached the rock out crop that is the home for the colony. We were guided by the two biologists who, once we were in place went back down the hill and left us to our photography. Now marmots have really only a couple of predators, the most common being Golden Eagles (since we don’t fly, we don’t look like them) and bears (which we could be mistaken for). So like normal, for the first few hours, the good light time, we saw only the occasional eye staring at us from a rock crevice. By late afternoon, a good 6-7 hours into our shoot, they started to go about their daily routine within site of our lenses. What you’ll see in the video is the fun unfold. Many have heard me joke about flying dust spots. That reference normally pertains to gulls flying about. In this video though, flying dust spots take on a whole new meaning! Those aren’t dust spots…them are flies!
All the still shooting was done with the D3x. For video I swapped out the D3x for the D3s with both stills and video being shot with 600VR2 with TC-14e mounted on a Wimberley / Gitzo, carrying the entire rig over my shoulder through the forest and up and down that mountain. That’s because if we came across something like a Wolverine (which were in the area), I didn’t want to miss a shot taking time to set up. That’s my general MO. I did the editing on the iMac with all the vid residing on the ioSafe N2 and doing the editing right in Premiere Pro CS7. With the way the day turned out, we didn’t make the trek back up the next day. While it was a really, really, slow start, the end of the day was great! One of the Hoary Marmots ended up coming right up to me so with that, Jake & I knocked out the rest of the photos we needed for the project. And those flies you see in the video, lucky for us they only plagued the marmots, they left us alone.
For years and years, I’ve gone to Yellowstone in the heart of winter looking for one opportunity. I’ve gotten up and entered the park long before sun up in search of that opportunity. And only once have I been rewarded for that persistence. That’s the very nature of wildlife photography. But that one time is one I wouldn’t trade for all the camera gear at B&H! On a dark and snowy day, we came across a fresh elk kill, the carcass hadn’t even been broken open. Over the next ten hours, we witness the carcass nearly disappear and countless coyotes and wolves come and feast. What you’ll see in the video is just one of the coyotes, the one that seemed to have the greatest nerve to deal with pressure that comes eating at a carcass in winter, especially one brought down by wolves. You can tell it’s the same coyote because of the “Z” scare on its nose.
What made this kill really amazing was its location. We could pull the snow coach off the road at an official turnout and be legally far enough away from the kill permitting us to park and stay. If you’ve ever been to Yellowstone, you know that set up is rarer than seeing a Great Gray Owl! So, sitting in the van with just the tripod legs outside, I was able to shoot out of the wind (it was -12). Shooting with a D3s, 600VR2 with TC-14e mounted on a Wimberley / Gitzo, I would shoot stills and video. Shooting in AWB A6 before the sun somewhat brighten the skies (also shot ISO3200 then) was a good idea (but you’ve gotta remember to dial it out once the light appears) The video quality and technique leave a little to be desired but it still brings back a rush of the find to me. This is an edited down from the 4hrs of video to just 4min. I did the editing on the iMac with all the vid residing on the ioSafe N2 and doing the editing right in Premiere Pro CS7. What I wanted to convey in the video can be seen in the first frames and the last frames when you look at the elk carcass. It was amazing that 24hrs later,there wasn’t a single shred of evidence, not even blood on the snow, that any of this had ever taken place. Mother Nature is just amazing!
As the sun kept creeping lower, the drama in the color increased. The separation of clouds and smoke at times was very dramatic. Looking for that drama kept me spinning because the wind was constantly upending everything. These images were taken at Minaret Vista, a location behind our home with dramatic views. Shooting with D4 / 80-400 / 18-35 was all that was needed. The WB was set to Cloudy to capture the deep red and a little Photoshop was used to remove the tops of trees that were at the bottom of the frame. Otherwise, what you see is what we saw last night.
We’ve had some very weird weather for the Sierra. While they keep predicting rain, we’ve had enough to spot our windshields and that’s all. And with that was to be some lightning, but we’re only heard distant rumblings. Well a couple of days ago, they had some south of us and it started a fire. The cloud cover trapped the smoke until just a little bit before sunset and then it was just a swirling collage of pastel colors. It was gorgeous so I grabbed the D4 / 80-400 and went clicking.
Now those who have talked in person with me about photography know one of my first questions is often, “What’s the subject?” These photos instantly could lead one to ask that question. That’s because there is no subject. There is texture, color, pattern and emotion, but there is no subject. When you remove that subject, you risk failure because without the subject, there is no story. No story and it’s up to the viewer’s imagination to make sense of the photograph. That’s real risky. In this series, there are stronger images than others when you see them small like here. None the less, I wanted to share the soft moments of sunset with you,
We’ve had really cruddy weather that last three days, deep cloud cover, a little lightning and even less rain (which we so need). With the cold, the hummers have been pounding our feeders. Well, Monday around noon a Allen’s Hummer came in and really challenged Caesars dominance to the one feeder. The rest of the day Monday and then all day Tuesday they flew the most incredibly aerial battles around the feeder. Felt sorry for Caesar, it couldn’t drink enough to keep up with the constant challenge. Well this morning we woke to find the Allen’s on Caesar’s perch and no Caesar! Been watching for hours now but no sign of him. The Allen’s that took his place is a male that appears to be going through a molt. That along with the fact that he lets me walk right up to him, within a foot, makes me wonder if Alvin is back. Only time will tell.
Ungulates; deer, elk, pronghorn, moose, bighorn sheep, simply don’t like heat. About this time, they have shed their thick winter coat and are starting to store fat for the fall rut and winter. In this process, they seek the cool. At the same time, the light this time of year gives us about, oh, two minutes in the morning and four minutes in the afternoon when it’s not nasty. This combination makes for tough big game photography which leaves you with a couple of options. The most obvious is, wait until Sept before heading out to photography big game (my personal favorite). In Sept, they are back out as the hot days are fewer and they are starting to grow their winter coats so look much more like magnificent wild critters.
The other option is to be in the field before sunrise heading to locations where you’ve done your homework the night before to find where they are bedding down. Once you know the location where they are bedding down, find the closest water because they’ve got to drink and typically they’ll do that early in the day. You’ll have to wait to see if mother nature will be nice to you and give you the photo. While you’re doing your homework, look also for shade that’s being used. You will be able to tell, the ground cover will be beaten down and much of the shrubs will be browsed. Because if you want to photograph big game now, this is what you’ve got to do. Oh, looking for racks like the one this Mule Deer is wearing, you’re too early. You’ve got about 45 days before they are this big and longer before they are this clean. When it comes to lenses, I prefer those in the 200 – 400mm range, my preferred is the 200-400VR2 but will be trying out the new 80-400 this fall.
Well, spent basically all day with Caesar and it’s clear, he’s no Alvin! Nope, Caesar is like most hummers, just not really sure whether he can trust me or not. Unlike Alvin who would greet me, land on my lens, Caesar really wants nothing to do with me. He did finally by late afternoon permit me to be on the deck with him, but I’d best not move or he moves to another perch further away. Shooting with the D4 / 800mm, I started the day by setting it up and leaving it in place while I went on about my business. I did connect the Pocket Wizards and shot some video but remote photography just doesn’t work for me. During the day when Caesar was out chasing other hummers, I would move the rig closer until by late afternoon, the rig was at the 800mm MFD. With him coming and going with it there, I than sat at the lens. When he first came in, I didn’t do a thing. Then slowly I started to shoot. By the time the sun was leaving the perch (flash is not a pain in the ass to do with a hummers), he sat and slept which is a great sign. It means he’s OK with me being there. Today is another day, fingers crossed.
Seven days ago, we had no, zero, nada hummers in the yard! The flowers were all in bloom, feeders filled and out and still, no hummers. We were really wondering what was up and pretty bummed. As you might remember, last year we had our friend Alvin and learned about how much fun I have with our hummers. Then six days ago, the first hummer appeared and we were happier. At first, only one juvenile Allen’s was in the year and by today, we had five in the meadow fighting for dominance. I’d even seen a Calliope a could of times so I was getting excited. And then this evening … a Rufous Hummer, an adult male, took over “the perch.” Oh my!
We have Rufous in the yard all the time, but never had one proclaim dominance of “the perch” (you’ll need to watch my Kelby class to understand about “the perch.”) And while I’ve photographed them before, I’ve not for a long time. How long? I don’t have any digital images of a Rufous! So I dropped everything, set up the D4 / 80-400 on the Really Right Stuff with Pocket Wizards. When Caesar (what we’re calling him) took off chasing another hummer, I ran out on the deck and basically dropped the tripod to see how it would react to it sitting there (that’s the top photo). It didn’t hesitate for a heartbeat, it came right back to the perch with the camera out. So next time it took off after another hummer, I went back out and fine tuned the placement of the rig and then snuck back into the house. I was no sooner back in and it was perched on the perch.
Here’s the rub. I had to raise the ISO to make anything happen and I hate doin that! Ya, I like the photos but they’re not up to my snuff. When Caesar took over the perch, the sun had already gone behind the pines. I could have used flash but not knowing how tolerate he’d be, didn’t want to scare him off before the morning. So, I shot while I could crossing my fingers the whole time these won’t be the only images I’ll get.
So, if life is being good to me, while you’re reading this, I’m out on the deck with my new best friend, Caeasr.
This was the scene just a month ago. The majority of our street signs have at least one active woodpecker nest. This spring the one by our home had a Hairy Woodpecker nest. Setting up the D4 / 80-400 as a remote, I fired the rig with a Pocket Wizard. With the street sign being right on a corner, standing there behind the camera just wasn’t a wise thing to do. So from across the block I watched with bins and clicked as the parents came in to feed. They fledged two kids, a male and female.
So while having breakfast on the deck, one of the kids that just fledged dropped by our feeder. Still shooting with the D4 / 800, it was fun to see the youngster. Now I’m not really thrilled with the lighting on the lower half of the branch, but I do like having one more click in the kid’s life. One of the cool things is, this kid is like generation 13 or 14 to come to our feeders. Their parents bring them so they are very use to our just doing our thing. Unlike the Band-tails, we can walk up to the window just a foot away from them and they don’t even bother to look at us. So once this kid has all its feathers all popped, it will be a great subject!
Being it was a gorgeous morning, we decided to have our breakfast on the deck. It is most definitely one of the great summer perks of living in the Sierras. And of course wherever I go, the camera comes along so set up next to me was the D4 / 800. One of the bird species that nests on our property are Brewer’s Blackbirds. A very, very, very common species but why they are nesting up on the slope where our home is rather than by a creek like they should be is a mystery to us. We had eleven nests in our manzinettas this year fledge young. Other than watch their antics when they dive bomb our dogs right when their eggs hatch, I really don’t take note of them. But this morning, this one male was noteworthy. First, the angle of the light was just right to bring out the sheen in its black feathers. Next, it saw a female and well, you get the idea. So while I only have a minute or two with it, the final image makes me smile. I love the expression the stare and cocked head brings.
No, that’s not a translation of their Latin name, but it might as well be as far as we’re concerned. This is a Band-tailed Pigeon and in most regions of the country, it’s a hunted species (and I’m told tasty). Ever since our first fall in the Sierra, we’ve had this very wary species at our feeders. That is for about ten minutes which is about how much time it takes for them to suck them all dry. Now you know what we call them vacuum cleaners.
Prior to moving to the Sierra, we had seen the pigeons in other regions of the state, but never got close enough to get glass on them. I suspect that comes from the fact they are hunted. And even though they are coming to us (my preferred way of getting close to critters) and are here what seems like the hundreds (probably only 50), the slightest movement inside the office and it sounds like a Huey lifting off from the driveway. Though they’ve been sucking down our seed for nearly twenty years, I still have to stand way back in the depth of the office and shoot with the D4 / 800. Why go to all of this for a “pigeon?” Simply business actually, hunting magazines need photos of them and with them being so difficult to photograph nearly everywhere, they are money in the bank. Now I have a deal with them, they pose, they get to eat. No posing and we walk through our office and they fly off. And when you take a moment and look at them, they are a pretty cool bird.
With the D4/800 in my lap and Puffin Pad beside me, Sharon & I took off to check out Upper Souris NWR outside Minot, ND. The Upper Souris is a location I’ve long heard about so wanted to see it for myself. I was really hoping our timing would be perfect for the hatch of grebes but such was not the case. We were about 10 days late, the chicks too old to be floating around on their parents backs. But the trip was anything but a bust!
I put the 800mm away and grabbed the 18-35AFS and 24-70AFS and worked the amazing fields of Mustard that seemed to stretch to the horizon. The skies were nearly perfect for landscape photography even though the sun was high in the sky. In fact, I don’t think I would have wanted the sun any other place. The bright, cheery yellow screams for bright and cheery. There is no filters, no post processing, these are simply images out of the D4. The ones I like the best are the ones that show a little topography to the mustard fields. A little creek at a diagonal was something I seeked. To say getting back, earlier to the area is on the calendar. We saw nearly 50 species of birds and that with being technically “late” so I can’t wait to see what we’d find being ontime.