Capturing the Rain

Kodiak Brown Bear family captured by Z 9 / 800f5.6AFS

Rain is a part of our experience outdoors photographing critters. Often though, we either run from it or curse it. It’s not very often we embrace it let alone try to tell its side of the story. In Alaska, rain is part of the summer which is why in part it is so green. The critters there including the Kodiak Brown Bear go about their day rain or shine like normal. On this particular afternoon, I wanted the gloppy Alaska rain to be as much of the story as the bears. There are two challenges with this goal, both are technically. Keeping the gear “dry” while showing the rain in the photograph. Both are actually easily once you think it through.

As for the gear, my rule of thumb is, if I can stand the rain, so can my gear. The Z 9 / 800f5.6AFS are old hands at working in the rain. You just need to “blot” your gear dry to keep water from pooling. The gear is not hiding under the towel or some cover, it’s hanging out there just like me. You blot with a clean, dry, white towel so as to not force any moisture in places it shouldn’t go. And in showing the rain, it’s a highlight so making it appear, you need something dark behind it. Then depending on the size of the rain drops and how fast its falling, you dial in the shutter speed for the “blur” you want and that makes it appear in the photograph. And with that, you photograph a rainy day in the Kodiak Brown Bear world. It’s all about capturing the rain.

How Much Land in Landscape?

Sapphire Mountains captured by Z 9 / Z24-120

It is called landscape photography after all, but do you wonder how much “land” you need to tell your story? When I shoot with others, they often look through my viewfinder and come away saying, “You’re including just the sliver?” I asked myself long ago the question of how much land I need to say landscape and in finding my answer, I found myself raising the camera higher and higher when … now that’s the part of the equation that’s a challenge!

The Bitterroot Mountains captured by Z 9 / Z70-200f2.8

There tends to be three elements in the viewfinder that I need in considering how high to raise the camera minimizing the land. The sky, the light and color seem to play the biggest part in the equation. You might think that when looking at the sky, clouds need to be present for this to work especially since my two examples have clouds. But actually I do the same thing with bald skies if the photograph is going to be a B&W. That’s because the natural gradation of a bald blue sky when turned into a gray tone can be incredibly stunning. But yes, generally clouds are part of the frame. But not just any cloud. Often there is a “unique” light, color and density that if you were there in person, would make you look up and that’s kinda the point. When the sky, the mood, romance, the vibe tell you to look above the land is when raising the lens makes sense to my visual storytelling. It is something to consider when telling your viewer the vastness of the world you’re exploring with your camera. You might just ponder, how much land in the landscape?

And Then, They Were All Grown Up

House Wren captured by Z 9 / 800f5.6 AFS

While we were gone over the weekend, the kids fledged and the nest box was emptied. As quickly and mysteriously as he appeared, they had all left. The quiet about The Ranch is deafening, neither Sharon nor I realized how much we came to depend on that little House Wrens company the past month! Always amazing how quickly one can get attached to a critter!

I knew time was getting close to the kids leaving home. I spent every single moment I could the last week out enjoying their antics and behind the lens photographing all the activity. Mom & Dad would from sun up to sun down bring in bugs to the box. Don’t know how many kids were in there but the book says it can be up to ten! Even during one of the afternoon down pours when we had nickle sized hail, there they were hauling food to that box. I always knew when it was the male coming in. He would land and flutter his wings (like you see in the video at the top of the website) which I always thought of as excitement of being a dad (there is a biological reason though). And he was always the gentleman, letting the mom go in the hole and feed the kids first, him waiting on the perch with the withering bug in his bill. And they brought in every bug they could find! You’ll see a few examples in the slideshow below.

I would prefocus on the perch on a section I thought he would land on by the direction I saw him approach. I had to acquire them quickly in the viewfinder as they would only perch for a heartbeat prior to going in the box. The speed of the Z 9 AF Firmware 2.1 was greatly appreciated! I was just standing there, out in the open behind the Z 9 / 800f5.6 AFS, I wasn’t hiding and he knew quite well it was me. Working in good light was a challenge the last few days. Though good light was on him, I was standing in the full, hot sun. I was wearing my wide brim hat to hide from the sun which he did not like and he told me so. I know that because he gave me the same scolding he gave the Western Bluebird when it came and landed on his perch to investigate the activity at the box. I was bad and took the hat off. It made him happy.

To get a bigger image size, I needed to get closer physically so I attached a extension tube permitting me to move fourteen inches closer and increase the image size by about 18 %. That was about as comfortable as the male was to me though Maggie would often lay down below the nest box while I was shooting and that didn’t phase either adult. On my last shoot as it turned out at the box, I finally started to hear the chirps of the nestlings and I knew I wouldn’t see them fledge as we were leaving the next morning. At the same time, the activity of the parents was at a fevered pitch bringing in bugs it seemed every couple of minutes. One of the last shots I got is the one above, the male perched on the pine behind the box in the morning sun. For once, he sat darn still and for him, a long time in one place, perhaps forty to fifty seconds. It was like he knew, it would be our last time.

We got back to The Ranch a couple days later and as we pulled in, I saw a House Wren out front and I knew they had fledged. When I open the door to the truck, I heard what had become that oh so familiar and heart warming call and then, it was gone. Chores around The Ranch the past couple of days have not been quite the same without his company, it’s pretty quiet. Then, when I sat down to write this post, outside my office window I heard my friend. He was perched in the aspen outside my window, looking in and singing. Then off he flew after the family heading out. What a great spring! Loved every moment except at the end. Can’t wait until next spring to see if the story continues!

House Wren captured by Z 9 / 800f5.6 AFS

There are Times, You Gotta Point Up!

Skies over The Ranch captured by Z 9 / Z14-24f2.8, Z70-200f2.8 w/Z1.4x & Z24-120

We received a lot of free water last week from the summer thunderstorms that rolled through. On the fourth day, the energy in the clouds let loose producing a hail storm of nickel-sized ice rocks for about ten minutes. With that quick expenditure of energy, the storm broke up and then tried to reorganize as it floated east but it was too late in the day. That was OK as it put on an aerial show for the next twelve hours all around The Ranch. The lightning though fifteen to twenty miles away to the east was spectacular and that’s what got me out to look overhead. The sun as it squeezes over The Bitterroots produces some gorgeous sunsets but not all are a photograph. On this evening the pastels were drop-dead dreamy so I ran out with the Z 9 / Z14-24 and pointed up to make the simple click. Then as the color faded the moon peaked out, so I switched to the Z70-200f2.8 with the Z1.4x attached and made another click. With the slow movement of the storm and with the humidity so high, my thoughts turned to the morning sunrise and the possibilities.

At 05:11 I was out with the Z 9 / Z24-120 and man, the heavens put on a whole new show that was glorious! I’m so glad we have no neighbors who can see what I do as I ran up the slope beside the ravine in just sweat pants and flaps racing the bursting color. The air was still on the ground but still moving overhead changing the light and color story with every step I took racing uphill. I didn’t need any coffee, I was already pumped up enough as the heavens exploded as light streamed around lighting up the snow-covered peaks to the west and the Sapphires to the east. Wow! By 06:00 the skies were nearly bald, the clouds continuing their journey east. What a treasure to witness! There are times, you gotta point up!

He Found Love

House Wren captured by Z 9 / 800f5.6 AFS

Sharon & I were so routing for him! He would be outside our bedroom window before sun up singing and continue all day until sundown. He was at it for almost two months. Though I had seen him once in the company of another wren and I thought I saw copulation, the singing persisted. We thought he hadn’t found a mate. We started to call him Mr Lonely Heart. Then at the beginning of the week we saw him with food in his bill heading into the nesting box. Then we saw TWO wrens with food heading into the nesting box! So, obviously had he not only found love, he made some kids!! And as soon as we discovered this, his singing stopped. What we interpreted as looking for love was actually, bragging he had found love. This little guy is quite the character making observation and photography mandatory for us. When Sharon is in her garden tending to it, he is all around her within arms reach looking for bugs. When I’m out photographing him, he flits all about and the moment I walk away from the camera, he make my 800mm his perch. Our daily vigil now is not to see if he founds love, but looking for the kids to stick they head out the hole. I still don’t know how he found our nesting box, even bigger mystery is how he found a mate, but we’re so glad he found love!

And Before the Kaboom!

The Sapphire Mtns captured by Z 9 / Z24-120

Forth of July fireworks start a little later here in Montana than most locals, last night it was 22:35. Thunderstorms had been floating by all day lighting up the skies and soaking the plants. Then around 16:00 they started to move on towards the east. Sharon & I decided to have dinner at home and then head to Hamilton for their 4th of July fireworks. We arrived three hours early so we had some time to kill. What to do? Well like any good wildlife photographer, I headed to the homemade ice cream shop and got a double scoop of Huckleberry Fudge (yes, I shared some with Maggie of course). With some time to kill still we cruised around and then drove to the pulloff on the Eastside to wait for the show. In front of us to the west were The Bitterroots with clear skies starting to appear behind them as the last clouds floated by. Then I looked in the sideview mirror at The Sapphires behind us!

The Sapphire Mtns captured by Z 9 / Z24-120

While the storm in front of us was for the most part gone, behind us it was still in the process of fading. The winds, moisture and light, Mother Nature was working her magic putting on a spectacular show. The Sapphire Mtns where we make our home were lit up with drama and it was real simple to make the clicks. Both photos are right from the camera, my simply standing up out of the truck and shooting. Maggie was still working on the ice cream as I was shooting. With the setting sun at 21:31 so went the drama. But more was to follow. mtc

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