Winter is coming and hopefully with it, lots of the white stuff. Snow is a marvelous background or stage for photographing wildlife in so many ways. One that I recently pointed out is its great light bouncing qualities. It makes shooting critters anytime of the day a no-brainer. Next, it cleans up the world so nicely, making lots of the natural world’s clutter disappear. One of its greatest gifts though is its ability to set the stage for our photograph.
There is no body who sees a photograph of white sweeping across the landscape who won’t know it’s snow. That in itself is huge! Talk about easy story telling, put the white stuff in there and you can say it’s winter in a heartbeat. And with it being white, anything you stick on it will visually pop without any problem. That’s huge too! The three photos here, the Coyotes in Yellowstone, Polar Bear on the edge of the Beauford Sea or Dall Sheep in the Yukon territory demonstrate this. The “subject” in each one of these photos gets smaller and smaller yet, you can’t help but to see them. You don’t need long glass to make these types of images come to life. You’ve just got to see them and get past having frame filling subjects but let the whole world into the frame.
This brings up for many I’m sure the question of exposure. There is some really old, really bad advice out there on this topic but like anything photographic, YOU must find what works best for you. Personally, when shooting snow I don’t automatically do anything with my metering. Using modern cameras with meters connected to computers, I don’t find an issue so it comes back down to what it is you want to communicate. I’ve written about this before, if you wanna find out more, head here. The biggest trick of all if simply getting out in the snow because once there, the whole winter wonderland opens up and the photographs seem to be endless!
Ah, the first snow of the season that will stick has fallen, winter is on! I love shooting critters in the snow for many reasons. They have their thickest fur, densest feathers, most of the time they are all puffed up to stay warm giving themselves the “I’m full and pleased” look. It is also easy to photograph them. I have learned over the years what patches of snow to NOT remove as it acts like a natural reflector so flash fill is not required. No matter the time of day, the snow bounces light up and makes getting snap shots easy to take. All you need are the critters!
Attracting critters in the winter is real simple, food and water is all it takes. When it comes to food, suet works great because it is such high energy but even better, it doesn’t freeze. Lastly, suet hangs so snow doesn’t collect on it and even if it does get wet, it’s fat so it won’t spoil. We do put out seed but it’s a pain to keep clear on some days. Water is the best, it’s free and brings in everything critter from birds to mammals. The only trick is to keep it from freezing. There are bird bath (some even solar powered now) heaters which draw no power really and keep the water just a couple degrees above freezing. This “free water” as it is called is vital to critters since they still need to drink especially in the winter.
Now if there is a trick to this when it comes to photography, it’s putting up food and water so you have a shot. That means watching backgrounds! Now I tend not to shoot the critters at the feeders and baths, but when they come and go to them. In the top shot, this is the suet post, you can see the suet cage in the lower right corner of the frame. I hung it this way because the Clark Nutcrackers (who you see here), Steller Jays and woodpeckers love to land and argue about who gets to eat. I needed a beefy branch for all that activity. But it’s the line of birds waiting their turn at the offerings that I love to photograph the most. The bottom shot is a favorite from this spring (birds are missing from our feeders right now ). I love the light and the gesture. You might be saying, “There’s a stick going through its head” and you’re right. If you showed me this image I too might make a joke about the skewered brains. But for some reason, it doesn’t bother me here which doesn’t make it right, I just like it. So with Thanksgiving just around the corner, remember to be thankful for the wildlife we have about and remember to set them a place at the table!
Photos captured by D3x, 600VR
Ah, the blaaaaas of August are past and wildfowl and shorebirds are starting to hit the area. Another reason fall is a favorite time of year for me. While the ducks, geese and shorebirds are in their fall plumage, it’s fresh, new plumage which makes them great targets of opportunity! But how can we do more then just take a photo that says, “They have arrive” and rather say “Hot dogs, they have arrived!”?
On of the best ways is to change your angle! I’ve become pretty famous for that video clip that shows all to well my poor imitation of a beached whale but getting down low is a must! This shot of a Red-necked Grebe is a classic example. I’m not totally flat on the ground but perhaps 12″ off it, the legs of the Gitzo not totally flattened. I did that because I loved the pattern in the water which is what attracted me to the photo in the first place. Shooting with the 600mm w/TC-17, it was easily to isolate the reflection of the trees on the other shore which you see as simple green breaking up the pattern of blue. So you start to move your images forward by not just plunking down your tripod and being satisfied with getting a sharp image.
You knew this was coming but gotta say it anyways. You gotta greet the sun! The sun hasn’t even come up on these Short-billed Dowitchers still napping into the day. This is important for two key reasons. The first is the mellow light and lack of shadows. That’s important for the second reason, the calm water. The mirror properties is what makes these fall drab plummaged shorebirds spectacular. So, greeting the sun is a must in my book!
One thing I can’t encourage wildlife photographers to do enough is go out shooting when the weather sucks! I’ve been saying it for 30+yrs and still say it, some of the best photography is in the worst weather! Fall is when winter storms start to make their appearance. Before, during and after a storm you can have some incredibly dramatic light like on these Blue or Dark Phased Snow Geese. They didn’t have that single shaft of light on them when I started to pan with them but knew they would fly into it and they did. Click! You and your gear won’t melt if it gets wet. Simple, basic care like a clean, white towel and blotting your gear dry (do not wipe!) and you’re rockin in that dampness. And the photographic rewards of that one magical image will warm you up better then any fire!
The whole trick to all of this is getting out! DO some homework, visit bird hotlines and websites and see where the birds are coming in and then get there! Do you need a 600mm? I’m often asked that question and if you wanna play with the big boys, you sure do! If you’re just starting and learning, you sure don’t! A 400mm lens does a great job and is all the focal length I had for years and started my business with. Never loose sight, it’s the person behind the camera that counts!
I was just talking with our forest biologist (a neighbor) last night and the thickness of the fur on the critters came up. When you see the bears and squirrels with a thick, healthy coat now and not 30 days from now, it hints to a cold and wet winter is coming. For photographers, it also means some great photography! Mammals look their best when they are fat, both body fat and thick fur. This combination fits what the public stereotypically think of a critter and when it comes to visually grabbing their attention, this is important. So how can you take advantage of this in your photography?
One of the first things I would do is head north. Winter comes earlier in the far north so critter are already getting in condition there when some down south are still finishing up with the spring brood. How far north? All the way! Depending on your budget and how much you like to explore, I’d start at the Arctic Ocean and work your way down. Sept is great there and Oct is great in Anchorage just to give you a reference. Then you get down to Yellowstone where late Oct rocks! It’s all hooked into cold, cold temps at night and cool to coldish during the day. That starts the whole cycle.
Take advantage of the gorgeous, gorgeous fall light! Light in the fall I think is some of the most romantic, moody and emotional of all light during the year for critters. This does mean getting up early, stalking light and chasing it all day long until the last beams slip away. Do this means you are dressed to deal with the chill! The mammals have a thick coat for a reason (and put on all that fat) and that’s because it’s cold! This is a great time to underexpose and take advantage of those long shadows!
And for most of the ungulates, it’s the time of year when love is in the air. You wanna get close, you wanna capture great biology, you wanna capture that unique photo, there is nothing like sex! Critter sex that is. When their mind is on each other, they could give a rat’s ass about dumb photographers and that is key.
And wrapping this all up in a successful trip takes homework. You gotta know the critters biology, you gotta find where they are this years (because last year don’t count, they have legs!) and if it is cold there when you wanna be there. And understand the weather you might be getting into. I was just told a a story from last year where three photographers headed out to photograph elk but didn’t do their homework. They spent three days stuck in their truck as a snow storm closed in on them and left stuck on a back country road. It’s going to be a great fall for photographing mammals, the fur is thick!
More and more Phalaropes started to land out in front of us. They motored around the Tufa and started to come closer as they chased the food source. Here you can see one coming up to a clump of Brine Flies. And while it might seem like they are trying to hide from the flies as they flatten themselves against the water, I think they are avoiding creating a splash from their bill when they strike. Being flat to the water, when they snap at the flies, their bill doesn’t touch the water.
Well, hunger works wonders in a short time, 45min or so, the flies lead the little flock into shore and my waiting lens. Now I had already positioned myself based on light and food source. How did I come up with that place to plant? Angle of incidence equals angle of reflection is how.
I had a hunch that once they came into the shallower water, they might start to bathe after munching a little. Sure enough, they did. Now bathing in water 7x saltier then the ocean really can’t do much for their oils but they did it anyways and with a lot of zeal. They were ignoring me so I took two steps closer, closing the gap two feet. I would have loved to be laying flat on the ground but the grasses were too tall and I saw no alley ways to shoot through so I remained standing.
After a bath comes preening of course. Knowing that, I started to watch for the signs. Because after preening comes…..
the wing stretch! This was a challenge to photograph because of the grass. Now you watch birds enough you will see that second or two second warning that a wing stretch is coming. That warning helps, it permits you to get wider or go vertical (based on body position) to catch the wing stretch. And if you’re thinking, the chance to close the lens down to capture as much DOF as you can. I never got the wing stretch but anything I was getting I felt was a gift from the photo Gods.
You must be asking yourself about the light?! At least I’m hoping you are. If you remember back to yesterday’s blog and one from last week when I bemoaned the horrible light of August on the Eastside, you might be looking at the photo above saying something like, “That doesn’t look so bad.” If you look at the second image, the little group shot and then the one above, you should see in a matter of the 10min I had with this flock, the light changed. The sun rose higher and when it did that, it made the water a reflector. You can see the difference for yourself, it bounced light into the shadow therefore “mellowing” the light a little. Angle of Incidence Equals Angle of Reflection!
And after their food and bath, it was time to head back out into Mono Lake to do whatever it is Phalaropes do to entertain themselves. They also went back to foraging. Mono Lake is their gas station where they fuel up on their migration south. There can be as many as 1 million of these floating cottonballs on Mono Lake within the next month. I still wanted that photo that said Wilson’s Phalarope on Mono Lake. So as the Phalaropes left their little beach I followed them in the viewfinder. The third or fourth one when it left gave me the photo I wanted, and my favorite from the morning.
The moral? I don’t know if there is one other then, photos only happen when you’re behind the camera. I went out to simply stretch the mind, the gear and keep all thinks sharp. After that, once out I just followed the clues to where they led. It would be great to say that’s how it always works but that would be a lie. Most of the time after such an outing, after I check for sharpness, I delete all the images because the light sucks. In this case though, I was rewarded for getting up early and willing to wait to play my hunch. Get out this weekend, exercise your gear and your mind and play the hunch. I hope you are rewarded as well!
Photos captured by D3x, 600VR w/TC-17e on Lexar UDMA digital film
Just because you own a flash and seen a video doesn’t make you a flash photographer. I sat in what seem like thousands of classes on flash, from college to present and while I understand and kinda feel like I know flash, I know that what I’m seeing made to look so simple on the screen, isn’t! I’ve seen and worked with even more who have taken the same class and walked outside, turned on their flash and then have a blank look on their face. My first “flash” teacher back in ’78 told me something I share with everyone I’m teaching flash to. “You can only learn flash when you’re working with flash.” You might get ideas, concepts, have your creative juices charged in a class or watching a video and that’s great! But it’s not until you take the canned light and blast it on something do you start to understand it’s not as easy as it appeared in class. And just why the hell is that?
The MAIN problem photographers have with flash is, they don’t know light. We pull out flash the majority of the time simply because there is a deficiency in the light. There is either not enough or the quality isn’t what we need to tell our visual story. Without understanding that key component of photography, light, just throwing a flash in the hot shoe isn’t going to solve your problems. More then likely, it will make the worst. Taking a que from my book Captured (really a must own if you wanna learn light), is this photo of an Allen’s Hummingbird. Look at the direction of the light. It’s backlit so without flash (flash fill) the hummer and flower would be all black. The background which is an important element in the photo would also be gone. The last thing that would have been lost is the gorget, the bright red throat (it’s an immature so it’s not too bright). To bring that out flash was required. You might be looking at the flash set up and asking yourself, “You need that many flash units?” To find out the whole story you need to check it out in Captured, but I was shooting in FP – High Flash Sync mode to use a high shutter speed and fast flash duration to freeze everything in the photo. And you might be saying you don’t own that many flash units so it’s a pointless read. You can rent them and if you don’t push yourself in your “free” hours, you’ll never be able to use flash when you have to.
To emphasize my point, here’s the first photo in a series I started 10months ago. Having flash filled the Queen Mary while fireworks went off in the background and other large objects back in my youth, having practiced flash a bit since, I felt like starting a new project for myself. We had luxury of time, workspace and a shit load of gear and yet, when push came to shove on this first outing, I feel I went down in flames! It’s a backlit subject, not much different then the hummer other then there is a slight size difference. Still working with small flash (SB-900 on
We live in paradise, the Eastern Sierra is a magical, special place. That is except for August, that is if you’re into wildlife photography. August sucks when it comes to wildlife photography even out my own office window. All the birds are done nesting so we have ugly kids and adults starting their molt. So if you like to photograph a wet, half plucked feather duster you’re in luck right now at my house. But that doesn’t really thrill me. Our little ground mammals like this Least Chipmunk are molting now as well. I just don’t do moth eaten. This all tends to put me in a real funk!
Here’s the other problem I face, you might as well. You’ve spent your wad on vacation or that great shoot and then what? I know where there are critters that can be photographed in August but they all require money to get to. Right now is a great time for Columbian Ground Squirrels as they are supper active getting ready for winter (yeah, that’s on their mind right now). The problem for me is, they aren’t in my backyard. this one photographed up in the Big Hole valley in MT is a two day drive away. I would love to go work our local Belding’s Grnd Squirrels but they too look a bit moth eaten. They are gorgeous in abut 30 days, but what to shoot until then?
Of course this Rocky Mtn Bighorn & lamb get lots of the aaahhh factor so who wouldn’t travel to photograph them? The problem is that while I knew where these critters were this day, I know they won’t be there tomorrow. So getting on a plane, renting a car and heading the the slope in MT where I know they should be, I might have to wait five days before I get glass on them. And even then, look at the light! This photo would be one helluva a lot better and grab more heart strings if it weren’t highnoon light. You might be saying, “You could fix that in post.” And that’s correct unless you’re me, I don’t “fix” any of my wildlife photos.
Then there is the magical land of Alaska where August is a marvelous time for lots of critters like this Hoary Marmot. Trust me, if I had the time and capitol to go and sit and shoot in AK just for the fun of it, I wouldn’t be blogging right now! So what’s the point of this blog? I’ve gone through a couple of decades of Augusts on the eastside and know that I will be climbing the walls to get glass on wildlife. Since I don’t have critters right at hand I look for other subjects, testing, experiments, almost anything I can find to photograph except weddings and wild flowers. Frustration comes to us all at times for different reasons. The trick is to find something else fun to photograph to fill the time, keep skills sharp and work through the “slow” period until the good stuff comes out. I’m on the road right now and I’m here to warn all wildlife in route, if I see you you’re fair game. I’m one frustrated wildlife photographer, that’s my problem with August!
There are actually many things in nature that change radically season to season. One prime example are oaks and maples. I have always wanted to do a year long portrait of just one tree. Taking its photo during an entire year just to see all the changes. In 30yrs, I’ve just never gotten off my butt to do it. What I have done though is this same idea with critters. Mammals are a great choice like this Arctic Fox. I love showing these two images at presentations, folks never believe me that they are the same critter. Its summer coat (top photo) is so vastly different from its winter coat (the all white one). And when you look at the muzzle, it is hard to believe they are the same critter.
Here’s the cool thing about this photographic challenge. First, you’ve gotta do your homework and see what animals that interest you have such big changes during the season. Then, you’ve gotta go out and get those photos during those seasons. Finally, and this is the best challenge, you’ve gotta get those photographs out to educate others. When you find such projects in wildlife photography and you take them on, your photography grows in ways you can’t imagine until after it’s accomplished. It’s a great project to start in the summer!
Photo captured by D2XS / D2H 200-400 on Lexar UDMA digital film
They are so cute! I just love grouse chicks. As soon as they are dry after hatching, they are up and going! Now they might trip on the grass, run under mom everytime a pine needle hits the ground, but they are just amazing! Now, how do you take advantage of this kind of situation?
First, I’m incredibly lucky this all unfolded on our property. It’s just me and the grouse. Watching their actions, feeding and moving on, watching their path and looking towards where they are going you can figure out possible places they will stop and graze. Mom is walking as slow as she can, the kids are running all out to keep up. And the light….it’s just dark!
With all that movement and the slow shutter speed (1/25 – 1/80), any movement will blur. That can be a plus and a minus depending on how you plan your shot. Using Peak of Action, you can stop a lot of movement even at slower shutter speeds. You will still have images that are soft, but you will have many that are sharp. In this case of the dandelion blossom disappearing, I like the little bit of movement.
Still on one knee, handholding and with the light no better, I was shooting nearly wide open. The band of focus is pretty narrow and at 400mm and how close the click was to me, it worked perfectly! I didn’t want the background in focus, didn’t want the foreground either so I placed the chick as you see it in the frame for those reasons. Pretty simple stuff, just having fun shooting the wildlife in the yard.
10min later, they are heading back towards the forest and the rain is coming harder. I had errands to run so I put the camera in the house, told Jake where the grouse family were and left. As we were leaving, Jake was walking out with his 200-400 and had more fun with the family until the down pour just got too intense.
Why no flash fill? I know that question is coming so thought I would head it off at the pass. Many reasons, the main one being I liked the light quality. I didn’t need to mess with it, I wanted the stormy feel to the images. The next, it would add more weight to the gear and I was already shooting slow enough I didn’t want to hassle it. Lastly, I didn’t want to take the few extra minutes to grab it. Could you use flash fill here? Heck ya, easily and quite successfully. If all conditions were perfect, do you wish you had grabbed your flash? Nope! Why not? Flash would have changed the whole feel. I like it just the way they it is.
Photos captured by D3x, 200-400VR2 on Lexar UDMA digital film
My wife has the best eyes! Besides being able to melt me to the kwik, when it comes to spotting wildlife, there is no better! “It’s, a, come quietly, don’t disturb the dogs, ah….it’s in the yard!” She was looking for the word Sooty Grouse but her mind was stuck on Blue Grouse which is what they were called just a couple of years ago. No matter, I knew what she was saying. I walked over to the window, spotted them, saw their line of travel, grabbed the gear despite the rain and got outside. It was dark when I started, shooting at 1/25 under the pines and at 1/80 when they family went out across the open.
By the time I got outside, the family group, hen and 4 chicks had moved from the front to the back and over to the neighbors. They were focusing in on dandelions, the young leaves and flower blossoms and doing a good job cleaning them up. It wasn’t like I had some place to hide, the rain was dropping so I took a knee and let them walk up to me. And they did, walked right up to me and then pass me. We always wonder if this is the same female that has been coming to our meadow for a decade, one of her chicks, just who she is. When a Steller Jay flew overhead, one of the chicks (7-8 days old) scurried for safety under mom. I like this shot. mtc
Photos captured by D3x, 200-400VR2 (handheld) on Lexar UDMA digital film
“Say thank you now!” I don’t know how many times I was reminded that growing up, but it sure seems like it was an awful lot. It was one of those lessons in life which made no sense to me at the time but man, it sure does now. It seems at times we got to where we are all on our own but we know that’s not the case. There are an awful lot of folks behind us helping get where we are. This is especially true if you’re successful in photography!
While I am thankful for those who have shared their photographic knowledge with me, I am more thankful for those who have shared their worldly knowledge with me. For example, I have written forever that my success as a wildlife comes from the biologists I work with (and now in aviation it’s the pilots making me successful). Like the marmot project up in AK, I would never had my glass on the Alaska Marmot one day and then on the Hoary Marmot (pictured here) the next without dedicated biologists. The adult and spring young were amazing subjects and ones we would have not gotten on without the biologists. We had to make the shots, but they got us there to make those shots. Like I’ve always told our sons, “I can open the door for you but you have to walk through it.”
In photography, no matter what genre you’re in, saying thanks is a must and not just for your own sake! Had an conversation with someone in the last couple of days that brought this topic to mind and I guess, because for me it seems rather natural, the story really fried my feathers (yes, Moose have feathers). Bottomline, the person I was working with had been burnt by a number of photographers, not just one but a number. He’d put himself, knowledge and time out their for these photographers and he never got a thanks, a print, a file, nothing. The photographer took and never gave back. And yet, because of their nature allowed one more, me, into their world. It might seem strange, but I do this blog to say thanks to those long ago who gave freely of themselves so I could grow. Most of them I know don’t read the blog because sadly, time has marched on and they have passed. But that debt remains that a simple thank you still doesn’t suffice. So sending the biologists prints of this moment in this marmot’s life with flies buzzing all around them yet taking time to say hello means alot. Means a lot to the biologists and to the photographers who come along after me so the door is still open for them.
What’s the best way to say thanks? The words at the moment don’t hurt, that’s for sure. But the best way is the gift of art. If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a million times, giving the print is the best thing you can do. It say thanks like no other gift. And on the business side, if your art is hanging on someone’s wall, they will never forget you. That my friends is very powerful stuff! We keep the Epson 4900 humming all the time making thank you prints and what flows from them just keeps the world turning. I had no clue growing up how much that constant reminder of saying thank you would effect me later on. It drives me nuts when folks don’t say thanks to me and even more when other photographers burn bridges when they don’t say thanks to those who make the photograph possible. Many ask what’s the secret to making it in this business for 30yrs. I know it’s not my charm, but it might be I at least know how to say thanks. Thanks goes a long ways!
Photos captured by D3x, 600VR w/TC-20e3 on Lexar UDMA digital film
The Panamint Chipmunks are out in force this spring, the ground seems to be moving there are so many of them. They provide hours and hours of entertainment especially right now as they are in love. You can easily spend hours chasing them with glass right now as they run about finding mates and making chipmunk love and come back with very few clicks. They just don’t hold still. Seriously, you can see 20+ at one time from our office window darting about! Well, I don’t have that kind of time plus, I’ve made a click or two of them over the years so I pick my time and place.
What I do anymore is wait for them to come to me. That really is simple, they climb Tree2 and wiggle across the branch towards the feeders and wait their turn in line. Our yard is bursting this year with Evening Grosbeaks and they rule the roost. Other then the Steller Jays, no other bird, chipmunk or squirrel takes them on. There can be as many as 8 at the feeder at one time (with a dozen waiting in line) and that’s enough bills to hold everything else at bay. This makes for a great photo opp for me as the chipmunks wait their turn.
Using my favorite “out the window” lens, the 300f4AFS, i simply stood at the window when I saw a chipmunk make its move. Part of the trick is to not flush all the grosbeaks (Evening and Black-headed, no Rose-breasted yet) that scare off the chipmunks. The grosbeaks are so close I need my reading glasses to focus on them, that’s close! There are only certain times in the day I’ll do this, when the light spotlights certain parts of the branch. Many of the branches are too thick so I won’t shoot things on them. Others are just not to purty and others have bad backgrounds. So my shooting time is a narrow window. When the conditions are right, I just wait until I have a character show up. I liked this guy (I knew it was a guy when it turned around) because of the determination that was on his face trying to wiggle into the feeder line. Because of that I underexposed a little more then normal to make the shadows drop and opened the lens up to f/4 so only its face was sharp. What often happens and always makes me laugh is the frustration the chipmunks often face and how they display that when they can’t get to the feeder. The bottom shot is so typical, that is the reaction when the frustration gets to them. These kinds of photos besides being so much fun to shoot are great money makers for a couple of reasons. Most don’t spend time with chipmunks and who doesn’t love a chipmunk making them good page fodder. Too much fun!
Photos captured by D3x, 300f4AFS on Lexar UDMA digital film
Here in the Sierras, nesting is now in full force with most species just now setting down on eggs. I realize we’re behind some areas and a head of others but here at home, it’s time for portraits. What do I mean by that? The majority of bird species, the female with her dual plumage does most of the daytime nest tending. The males, the brighter colored of the two is either standing guard or bringing food into the female. Either case, they tend to be T’d up on a perch dying for their portrait to be taken.
The first thing you need to do is find the nest. That often requires some bin time, sitting, watching and learning. The males will often have one perch they favor and that’s what you need to find. Once it’s found, you kinda wanna figure out their routine. Not that you can set your watch by it, by you wanna limit your time with a camera to safeguard the nest. No photograph is worth sacrificing the welfare of a subject! With all of this, look at the light and background. With the Raven above, it was real simple. Nice lighting and clean background. With this American Kestrel, great background but not so nice light. This is a great example where flash fill was needed.
This perch the male California Gnatcatcher used after it left the nest, not before. I kinda like those better because the pressure to take in food and being careful of predators is not so intense so the critters are more “relaxed” in the frame. The last thing you can do is keep the bird off nest! This is also my favorite kind of light for taking portraits, that’s overcast. Overcast not only is this giant softbox but means cooler temps which works best for the nest. Heat stress kills and kills fast!
But using overcast light, you either need to introduce flash for color (Captured has a whole chapter on this) or have a reflector to bounce in light. In the Gnatcatcher photo, the sand/shrubs did a great job reflecting light into this bird so small, it weight less then a nickle. The Upland Sandpiper, a favorite bird of mine, the white side of the Suburban acted as the reflector and did a killer job! Now how long can you stick around and take these portraits? I don’t know about anyone else, but I get bored pretty fast because once you set up and make the clicks, not a whole lot will change. I do take the time to watch the routine so I have an idea for when the eggs hatch or the kids fledge, otherwise I make the great portrait and move on so I don’t effect the adults. With subjects normally always on the move, it’s nice that at least for a short time each year, they will hold still for a portrait.
Photos captured by D3x, D2xs, D1, D3, 600AFS / 600VR w/1.4 or 1.7x on Lexar digital film
I love Bison! It comes in part because of all the 1850 history I’ve read, I see Bison and my mind goes back in time when the west wasn’t won, a timeless landscape waiting to be discovered (the eeky part of history I try to ignore). Here’s a photo tip.
You might notice how in these top two images, the Bison seems to “pop.” This is a combo of using 600+1.7, shooting at f/6.7, getting down low, having the Bison on a ridge and the clouds in the background. I set up so I had all those things working for me. A recent question I’m getting alot is how to work in highnoon light. Here’s another example of that and this case, all that tan grass is bouncing light up into the dark Bison filling in some of the shadow.
And this photo? Oh, I posted it just because I love that face!
Photos captured by D3x, 600VR w/TC-17e / 600VR (handheld) on Lexar UDMA digital film
I’m at one of my favorite places, the Black Hills in SD. I’ve been coming here for 24yrs and I just never get tired of the views, the critters and the tranquility. One of the great species here are the Pronghorn. I’ve spent hundreds and hundreds and hundreds watching and photographing them. There is one very important secret to making the shot work that was past on to me by a dear friend so I’m going to pass it along to you.
It’s real simple. Look at the eye(s). What do you see?
You don’t see anything in the middle image, just a black hole. That big bulbous eye is the biggest dang reflector you’ve ever seen and when it isn’t reflecting a thing, the pronghorn looks as dead as dead can be. The bottom photo, it is obviously backlit. If that the case, then how come it’s not in shadow and more importantly, you can see into the eye. How come? The Suburban and gravel are bouncing light into the pronghorn. Use everything you’ve got to make the shot!
Photos captured by D3x, 600VR (handheld) on Lexar UDMA digital film
I love shorebirds and have traveled north (as in Alaska / Canada) to photograph them on their nesting grounds many times. That’s because I love seeing them in their breeding plumage. So we were photographing the clouds in the last posting when I turned and looked over in the river to see a bird silhouetted. I said, “Willet?” How could that be, in April, here? It wasn’t moving fast and I began to wonder if it got caught in the blizzard and blown to where it was now.
I burrowed Sharon’s binoculars and sure enough, it was not only a Willet, but one in breeding plumage! Well, had a heartbeat or two of hesitation, I went back to the truck and grabbed the 200-400 w/TC-17e and headed over to the river bank. It wasn’t a great photo opp with the backlighting but this was the only the 2nd time I’ve seen them in breeding plumage and first time to try to photograph them. So I went for it. As first, it hunkered down and then it perked up and decided to start foraging. I was crouching down, shooting handheld off one knee.
After a few minutes of foraging, it had walked right up to me. While not the greatest Willet photo I’ve ever taken, it is the first in breeding plumage and the first in the Eastern Sierra so I’m darn happy. After this, I scooted away and left it to its foraging. The light was just getting worse and there was no way I could improve it and I was supposed to be teaching landscape photography so off I went. What a cool treat though. Just goes to show you that you get out with your camera, something will appear.
Photos captured by D3x, 200-400VR2 w/TC-17e on Lexar UDMA digital film
To be honest with you, I don’t even remember the last time I tried to photograph a soaring bird with the 600mm mounted to a tripod! I can tell you by my performance, it was a really long time ago. I was on the bend of the levee working the Ripairan Brush Rabbits with wildlife really just about everywhere going about their life as if I wasn’t there. The way I like it. I had a Coyote cruise right past me, never stopping or looking at me. I had a mink, my first wild one, jug past me as well. And overhead all morning were the raptors like this Swainson’s Hawk (listed species in CA).
Back to being rusty (putting it nicely). It’s not that I had a sharpness issue, panning the 600mm on the tripod even with the lens pointing to the sky wasn’t an issue, I’m not rusty there. Rather, it’s getting the subject in the viewfinder in the first place that I’m rusty! Panning at eyelevel is pretty simple but as soon as you point that lens skyward and you have to bend at the knees and careen your neck, life gets hard. Especially when you have to navigate the tripod legs. I missed a number of great opportunities until I finally got back in the flow of doing this. The worst thing was, I couldn’t raise the tripod like I would have wanted or really move much because I didn’t want to tip my hand to the bunnies that I was even there. I thought the raptors overhead (I had Red-tailed, Swainson’s, Blk-shdr Kit & Harriers) would have sent the bunnies looking for cover, but such was not the case. And when it comes to the final photo, I like the bottom photo much more then the top. Shooting straight up on a raptor, looks like a mobile you find in some nature store. There is no life to the flight, it’s just there. It’s the bottom photo I prefer where the bird has room to soar, the primaries have a bend to them from catching the wind and the head is cocked suggesting that flight is really easy. And before I head out with the rabbits again, I’ll be lookin for some way to practice my long lens / overhead technique. I hate missing photos because of pilot error!
Photos captured by D3x, 600VR w/TC-17e on Lexar UDMA digital film
I stepped out the front door to see a shooting star streak by, I took that as a good omen. It was 04:30 when I pulled out of the drive and headed down the road. The wind was blowing pretty hard, which in the winter means a storm is coming but looking up, all I saw were stars. I headed north to a gorgeous sunrise over the Sierra crest. I made a turn west on Hwy 50 and headed over the mtns. I no sooner got west of Lake Tahoe and the rain started, and it poured! I was driving 396 miles and rain would definitely put a damper on my day.
The Riparian Brush Rabbit is a listed species I first photographed 20yrs ago when the world population was best guessed at a couple dozen. Way back then, I spent five days to get a couple clicks of one individual. It was a lot of time for the shot, but it turned out to be “the” shot for the species for a long time. Since then the same biologists I worked with back then have been working amazingly hard to help recover the species. I arrived on site just after noon today and was instantly in the researchers’ vehicle looking for rabbits. You see the winter has been a wet one here in CA and the rivers levels has raised to the point where the RBR habitat has flooded out in many regions and they’ve had to go by canoe and rescue rabbits that are up in the tops of trees trying to escape the flood. Last week 125 rabbits were rescued with 34 being found drowned. Yeah, the population has increased with the captive breeding program the biologists started a decade ago.
We cruised down the levy and much to my delight I saw over 30 RBR this afternoon! I’m not here to take just portraits of the RBR but since I had the opportunity this afternoon, I took advantage of it. The rain had stopped and when the sun came out the bunnies came out to warm up. They are brush rabbits so photographing them in the brush is an important part of the photograph. At the same time, getting a clean shot of the eye is a must and after that, it’s to taste to tell the story. You become an expert real quick of finding their runways, tunnels through the brush that you can shoot down. Then it’s a fine dance up, down, left, right to get the shot tuned, including needed elements and excluding the rest. Handholding is a must to have that kind of flexibility in framing. After that, it’s getting the right gesture in the rabbit, which includes eyes, jaw and ears. I like this one because the wabbit has attitude that I see as, “I’m not going to smile so take your damn shot and leave me alone.” We spent about 10min with it before we continued down the road on task. This is another long term project I’m very honored to be a part of, starting back in the days of film. Well, it’s time to hit the sack. I’ll be up again early tomorrow. Shhhhhh, be vewy, vewy quiet, we’re hunting wabbits.
Photo captured by D3x, 200-400VR2 w/TC-17e on Lexar UDMA digital film