The temperatures might be well below zero, the snow is falling and the wind is blowing and the Bison get up and shake it off like it is just another day. Yellowstone in winter is simply a wonderland, classic example of our wild heritage. Every where you look the beauty comes through in so many forms. It is, the classic example of the wild power.
Shortly after I built vs3.0 of our water feature at The Ranch, I planted the woodpecker perch. Many looking at it wonder why a ten-foot-tall, dead top of pine is planted in the ground four feet from the water feature basically in the middle of the property. If you’re not a backyard bird photographer, you would simply check it off as odd. But for you folks who follow my blog, it’s pretty much operation as normal for me. I’ve put up dead sticks for a long time for backyard bird photography. Well on New Year’s day with the nice light, I set up on the woodpecker perch to shoot for the first time.
Why did I wait so long? The woodpeckers, Red & Yellow-shafted Flickers, Hairy and Downy (along with magpies, nuthatches, and Clark Nutcrackers) have been coming to the perch regularly for about 45 days. Before that, it was pretty hit or miss. I really wanted the Downy, that was my target species. So I waited to set up on it once they became totally accustomed to the perch, me, and the activity at The Ranch. I didn’t want any negative responses. You might be asking what is making them land on the perch in the first place? On the other side of the perch is a suet cake, placed there as they will land as you see on the opposite side of the food. It was all planned for shooting in the afternoon light.
And the background so out of focus? I can shoot at f/22 and it will look just as out of focus because the background is over one hundred yards away. The placement of the woodpecker perch was first, close to living trees and shrubs and the water feature to make the birds feel safe. It was placed for the background I wanted. And most importantly, for the afternoon light. It was a really nice first time shooting the woodpecker perch the first day of the year!
It’s that time of year when falling snow can be incorporated in your background to help tell your story. Capturing it is pretty straight forward if you think about it like you would shooting burred water or a blurred plane prop. It’s all a matter of how fast the snow is falling vs. shutter speed. The faster the snow fall, the faster the shutter speed. The slower the snow fall, the slower the shutter speed. In this case, the snow was blowing pretty hard so my shutter speed was 1/100. You might have tried this photo but didn’t have the results you desired, what to check?
The first thing I would check is the background, is it dark? You need a background that is darker than the snow in order to see the snow. Gray and green are naturals. Next, did you use flash as I did here to bring out the color in your subject? If you did, was the power of the flash could be such that it was freezing the snowfall? In many ways, it’s a balancing act but with digital, if only take a couple of clicks to dial it all in and have a ton of fun!
When we look at critters, we often, at least I do, wonder why they have the coloration they do. Some, like the Rhino or elephant, don’t really need to blend so are just gray all over. The Polar Bear can blend when they are lying so they can catch their prey. Others like the Pronghorn especially when young need to totally blend in. But how does one blend in when they are partially orange and white? The answer is not always obvious.
In the late fall when winter’s first snows have fallen and the last of the falls grasses are still exposed, you can quickly see why the Pronghorn have adapted to their color scheme. The further away they are, the more they blend, and when your predators have a finite range they can see, then they have a chance at survival. Though we saw one Pronghorn taken down on our latest travels, the rest of the herd was gone like a shot and quickly blending in a mile off with their butts all forming the heart shape of alarm. Want to show this evolution in your photographs, you gotta first think about it and then find the opportunity where it appears. It’s an elegant way of telling their story visually, how they can blend.
There isn’t a wildlife photographer who doesn’t owe a debt of gratitude to the Great Blue Heron. They patiently put up with us in the beginning of our passionate pursuit of wildlife photography. This big bird makes us feel successful. Being a bigger bird, they have more confidence permitting us to get closer physically to them. At the same time, being bigger we don’t need to have as big lens or lots of skill to get a good images size in the viewfinder. We comeback with photographs that make us feel successful, so we move to other subjects that challenge our skills knowing we conjured them with the amiable GBH. But many don’t go back to the GBH, I often hear, “I’ve photographed them a lot already.” Which of course, we’ve all done but have we don’t it well? Have we made the common, uncommon?
The Great Blue Heron is the species, subject that taught me the all-important lesson of making the common, uncommon in my photograph. There is nothing more common to the wildlife photographer then the GBH. They are found in nearly every corner of North America, wild or urban. I have thousands of Great Blue Heron image, thousands and looking through them, you will see a gradual lever of improvement. I’m constantly photography them trying to improve on my last image and the story it told. I was very fortunate to add to this quest yesterday floating on Caddo Lake. I’m quite excited by the opportunities I had this week to move the ball forward with the Great Blue Heron. If I hadn’t started with them forty years ago, I wonder if I would have moved the ball forward without such a big measuring stick. I think we owe a lot, to the amiable GBH!
I’ve photographed every Jay in North America over the past forty years. One, the Blue Jay has eluded me and while I’ve seen them forever, I’ve had no luck getting glass on them. A very common bird who thousands have photographed, I wasn’t one of them until finally, today.
I love Jays! I had one in Santa Barbara at the house that would come down and take peanuts from me. In Mammoth, we had Squeaky, a Stellar Jay that would keep us company around the property. I photographed them a lot! When we moved to The Ranch, one of the first things we found was a pile of blue feathers, a Blue Jay that had been taken out by the resident Cooper’s. I figured they wouldn’t come around much after that. So a month later when we heard a Blue Jay, I thought there might be hope.
In the last month, we’ve had four pop in and out of the feeders but were incredibly shy. Finally this afternoon I made my mind up to at least get glass on one. There I sat in the 38 degrees photographing every bird species BUT the Blue Jay. Just when the sun had left the perches and I was about to wrap things up, I heard them call. Moments later one landed in the branch to give me an eye. It sat long enough for a couple of clicks, then it went to the feeder for a moment and then, gone. The good news is, I broke the jynx. The better news, I can only improve on this photo cause it finally happened.