Anatomy of a photo #84: Faux Fringing a sheep


I remember well (although apparently not well enough) reading an article by Galen Rowell (yes, the other Galen) about how he was able to create a diffraction fringe around a fellow climber and his ice axe. It’s a fantastic photograph, his friend standing majestically off in the distance atop a rock jutting out into space, and this line of pure light encircling him. (I don’t have the rights to this image, but a quick web search should get it for you.) And I thought to myself… What a wonderful natural phenomenon to capture. And it’s tickled away in the back of my mind over the years, since I read his article. And over the years, apparently I’d forgotten one of the key factors that is apparently needed to recreate this effect. And no, I don’t mean that I’ve forgotten to carry a mountain climber and an ice axe with me wherever I go. What I’d forgotten is that you need exceptionally clear air in order to allow the light to diffract and bend around the subject in a coherent (visible) way, and you are ideally some distance below your subject.

Yesterday at sunset I did however manage to falsely recreate this effect with a sheep. It turns out all I’ve ever needed was a subject that was fuzzy (or wooly) enough, so that the fuzz could get lit up by the sun and I could pretend that I was diffracting the light around the subject (although this is also a form of diffraction, except that light is having to pass through something solid, instead of simply curving through air).

Position the sun so that it is blocking your sheep. I mean subject.

Position the sun so that it is blocking your sheep. I mean subject.

So to break down faux fringing for you. Get yourself a fuzzy subject. A sheep is ideal, although cows can work keep in mind that fuzzier is better… maybe one of those scottish highland cows… Next, get your subject silhouetted against the sky as the sun is going down. Place yourself a proper distance from your subject so that its body will just block out the entire sun. This will likely be forty to sixty feet away, although it will depend on the size of the sheep. Adjust your aperture and shutter speed so that your subject is a silhouetted shape and so that the sky is not blown out. In the case of the above photograph, I had the aperture set to f/9 and the shutter speed was 1/2500 (all of this at ISO 320). You will get similar effects, even at apertures that are stopped down farther, as long as you adjust your shutter speed or ISO accordingly.

Notice that it is the wool itself that is lit up, that it is not simply a line of light encircling the subject

Notice that it is the wool itself that is lit up, that it is not simply a line of light encircling the subject

Here is a cropped down version, so that you can see the wool more closely. Observe that this is not a true “diffraction fringe.” Fuzz was required.

Posted in Anatomy of a photo, How To, nature photography, photography, road side | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Camera settings for kayak photography


Have you ever thought to yourself “What settings should I use on my camera while I am kayaking?” This is especially important to consider with wildlife kayak photography outings, but wonder no longer, help is on the way, in the form of… well… ummm… a blog post. I’ve spent thousands of hours kayaking with cameras, and through trial, error, and common sense, I’ve come up with some basic guidelines to help you configure your camera for those watery voyages.

I most often see bobcats (Lynx rufus later in the day, when I am regularly paddling in and out of shadow and the light is changing quickly

I most often see bobcats (Lynx rufus later in the day, when I am regularly paddling in and out of shadow and the light is changing quickly

Photographing from a kayak is not the same as shooting from dry land. Every small wave, shifting of your body, even a slight breeze can rock your kayak a little. Tripods and monopods don’t work too well on these small boats (in fact they only magnify any rocking motion of the boat,) so you will need to compensate with how you hold your camera, and by setting your camera up properly. There are a few adjustments that you can make to your camera and settings that work well. The longer your lens, the more important it becomes that you compensate for the small movements of the kayak. Your body can take some of the motion away, but not all of it. Water conditions can really affect the lenses I use and the settings of my camera.

Shoot faster than you normally would. Increase your shutter speed by at least half a stop (adjusting your aperture or ISO to keep your exposures correct.) You will be shooting your pictures from a slightly less stable platform than you are used to. If you rarely take pictures without a ‘pod, consider increasing your shutter by a full two or three stops. Also, take a test shot or two from time to time if you shoot in full manual mode. Lots of light reflects off of the water, and can help to brighten up your subjects, sometimes allowing you to shoot faster without having to adjust other settings.

Often times this will mean opening your aperture up wider and/or increasing your ISO. Some of my best pictures of bobcats were near twilight while kayaking. I had my aperture opened up wide to f/5.4 on 420mms of lens, and my ISO set to 800 so that I could get my shutter to 1/500th of a second, which was fast enough to freeze the action in this photograph of a bobcat stalking the shore. There was a some extra noise, but at least the pictures was crisp. I’ve lost other photographs of bobcats while kayaking because of too much blur. Better to shoot a little faster and make sure you get that shot, because chances are, you won’t get that many of them.

Sometimes it is best to use a shorter length lens than you normally would. If you normally shoot with a 70-200mm lens with a 1.4x converter, consider not attaching the converter if the water is a little choppy, or if you are feeling less than stable. The extra magnification it provides will get you closer to wildlife, but make it trickier to focus on that same wildlife while bobbing in the water and keep you from snapping a crisp image.

Use a camera or lens that has image stabilization or vibration reduction (pretty much the same thing, but manufacturers like to have their own name for their own doodads.) A built in stabilizer, while adding onto the price of your equipment can make a huge difference when a tripod can’t be used. Many of them even have two modes, one for still shooting, and one for panning. Lots of fun to play with, even off of the water.

Image stabilization was a great help to keep the lens still enough for this shot

Image stabilization was a great help to keep the lens still enough for this shot

Shoulder stock attachments for your camera can make a great difference in stability during kayak photography or videography. These are fairly simple devices that allow you to brace your camera against your shoulder for extra stability. They make a huge difference, allowing an extra stop or so in shutter speed. I often use them for video work, whether or not I am on a kayak, simply because they help so much. They also allow for smoother panning when following a moving subject. They can be a little awkward at times in a kayak, but well worth it. There are many makes and manufacturers out there. Some appear as simple rifle style stocks, but I prefer the more adjustable styles that use a 15 mm rod system. Polaroid makes a very inexpensive yet effective one, while Genustech makes the most comfortable and stable one I have tried (with some minor modification). The shoulder stock was key in shooting this video of a Least Sandpiper. You can see the extra stbility it gives when shooting hand held.

If your camera allows you to preset for different lighting conditions (my cameras have three user presets for example), get those presets ready before you need them. When you are kayaking, you are able to get 360 degrees of view fairly easily just by paddling in a circle. Know what light you will be using if you go into shadows or face a different direction going around a point, and preset for it. Know what you will do if you are paddling into the sun, but see a bird or seal that is behind you, and needs a different exposure. I will often have one of my presets setup in case I want to switch to video (the settings are so different than what is wanted for stills). The second preset is ready in case I move from sun into shadow, and the third is the reverse of that- from shadow into sun.

The other option to presetting your camera is to use the Time Priority setting on your camera, sometimes labeled Tv or Tp. This is where you set your shutter speed and let your camera compensate accordingly. Shutter speed can be the most important factor much of the time, as mentioned earlier, so if you are not shooting straight M or manual, go for shutter priority. If you set your camera for aperture priority, your camera might compensate by slowing down your shutter speed, something you don’t want.

Some cameras will also allow users to set their ISO to automatic. In this way you can preserve your shutter and your aperture settings as lighting conditions change quickly, but you do run the risk of getting some very noisy photographs from your kayak, if the camera decides it has to bump the ISO settings too high. I usually avoid this setting, except on rare occasions.

Most other functions will depend upon your own personal shooting style. Sharpness, saturation, etc. White balance will depend on the conditions you are paddling under- cloudy, sunny, shady, etc.

While it is best to prepare your camera before heading out, don’t be afraid to change things up as conditions allow. If you are paddling through glassy waters, put that converter back on and pull out that polarizer that you were afraid would slow down your shutter too much. Have fun, play some.

-Galen

The End

The End

Posted in bobcats, How To, How to, kayak photography, nature photography, photography, wildlife photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Surfing under the Golden Gate Bridge: An Essay in Photos


Standing under the Golden Gate, studying the waves

Standing under the Golden Gate, studying the waves

I headed over to the south side of the Golden Gate Bridge early one morning, just to photograph this iconic bridge from an angle I haven’t experienced as often, and was surprised to find many people surfing. It is a rather unique spot, as the surfers head parallel to the shore, rather than just approaching a beach. This allows for some great surf photography options, that you can’t get while standing on most beaches. It’s closer to what you can see in surfing magazines, where photographers climb into their own wetsuits and sit out there in the water with their pricy underwater housings, bobbing up and down with the surfers (which definitely holds its own charms and joys)… except much dryer. Having people surf along the shoreline instead of towards it allows for angles and a closeness that we often can’t get. By accident I found my favorite spot to photograph surfers from shore.

Every now and then the surf would carry someone to where the rising sun would backlight the wave

Every now and then the surf would carry someone to where the rising sun would backlight the wave

And so it was, (as can often be the case) that while I came to photograph one thing, another caught my eye and I became caught up in the joy of photographing something new. I was getting some of the angle I had always wanted for photographing surfers. There was a big, instantly recognizable icon that I could include in some of my images. I was shooting in an interesting local and could occasionally include some interesting backgrounds to create a story through images that gave a sense of place. I had opportunity for different light, without having to move far… In short, I was in a sort of photographer’s nirvana. I hope you enjoy some of these photographs even half as much as I enjoyed creating them.

The angle was fantastic for capturing the action

The angle was fantastic for capturing the action

I used one of these images for an Anatomy of a Photo: Surfer and Bridge post, and I think I will use another one or two, as they are rather fun.

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Posted in Anatomy of a photo, California, documentary, Photo Essay, photography | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Least Sandpiper and Marbled Godwit, an exercise in video


When I’m out photographing wildlife, especially if I come across a species that I already have really good images of, I will sometimes switch my camera over to video mode. Stills are fantastic and can be so evocative of emotion, but there are times when having actual movement, instead of implied movement, can really give an extra view into the behavior of an animal. Stills cannot for example truly capture the frenetic energy of the Least Sandpiper- the constant, quick, darting movements, the endless quest for food. Seeing a photo of a Marbled Godwit, with its long beak in one image, and its bill thrust into a mudflat, right to the very feathers, gives an idea of how they drive into the mud and sand to search for prey, but seeing the actual movements and actions, gives a very different feel. Stills tell one truth, and video another. I marvel in how each can tell the story of life.

And so it was yesterday, when I was out kayaking the waters of Tomales Bay, photographing the shorebirds (as I described in yesterday’s post A morning’s kayak). I came across a nice group of Least Sandpipers, with a few Willits and Marbled Godwits mixed in, and began to photograph them. I have many fine portraits of all of these species, and so I decided to practice my video skills a little, in between capturing stills.

You can see that this Least Sandpiper is scratching, but you don't get the full action

You can see that this Least Sandpiper is scratching, but you don’t get the full action

As I was going through the video, getting ready to edit it, I realized that maybe I shouldn’t try to clean it up too much, that I should leave in some of the darting movements where I try to follow individual birds, that I shouldn’t try to cut out parts, where a bird in the background isn’t perfectly framed. I had the idea that maybe leaving all of this in, might be good practice for some of the folks trying to improve their bird and wildlife photography.

Photography is about timing, choosing a moment, capturing and preserving it. When I am shooting small birds like this, I am watching them, and trying to choose my moments when I press the shutter button. I’m not one of those folks that just holds it down, letting the shutter go rapid fire. I look for certain opportunities, like the light glinting in an eye. I try for backgrounds that aren’t a mess of partial birds (like another birds wing or leg sticking randomly into the frame.) I try to choose moments where I won’t have to crop unwanted elements out. So, as you watch this video, try and think about which moments you would choose, if you were there in the kayak photographing these birds. Think about which actions you would capture, which backgrounds. Watch this video as though you were photographing it, and think about the challenges you may or may not face in trying to track these small birds, or the larger Godwit seen towards the end.

Oh yes, and please excuse the sound. I realized once I was out there, that while I had been very good about charging all of my camera batteries, I had neglected all of my microphones and external recording devices, so the sound from the lens and the wind come through. Don’t worry though, I won’t be offended if you turn the volume off.

Have fun with the video, and happy shooting

This Godwit appears very different when frozen in time

This Godwit appears very different when frozen in time

Posted in birds, documentary, How To, How To, kayak photography, nature photography, photography, shorebirds, SLR, video | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

A morning’s kayak


It’s been a long day, but well worth it. I haven’t been making it out on the water enough lately, and so today, even though there was a lot to do later in the day, I made special plans for an early morning kayak. I made it onto the water and began my paddle with stars twinkling overhead, in that magical time after moonset and before sunrise, when it is dark enough to make the bioluminescent waters of Tomales Bay sparkle with their own version of the heavens, each paddle stroke lighting up with its own zipping universe of life.

I couldn’t see many of the birds at first, but I could hear them- the wavering cry of the loon, the unique whistling sound created by the wings of the surf scoter (the only bird I can ID in the dark by the sound of its wings), the slapping of the water as cormorants ran on its surface to take off… Birding before sunrise is so different, much more about the shape and size of a flying bird silhouetted against the sky, mixed with the rhythm of their wingbeats the only keys to who it is, unless you can hear its cry. As the sky slowly lightened, I found I’d gone nearly three miles before it was bright enough to take photographs without a tripod (tripods being very impractical on a kayak). I snapped a few obligatory sunrise shots of colored sky and silhouetted hills, as I waited for the opportunity to shoot the thousands upon thousands of birds wintering on the waters of the bay. And so the day began.

I saw many ducks, mostly Buffleheads (above), Surf Scoters, Wigeons, and Goldeneyes. If I'd headed to the south end of the bay, the species would have been more varied.

I saw many ducks, mostly Buffleheads (above), Surf Scoters, Wigeons, and Goldeneyes. If I’d headed to the south end of the bay, the species would have been more varied.

I paddled along the shores, trying to photograph the many ducks I was seeing, but they were more skittish than usual. I’m not sure if it was something they were reacting to in me (I haven’t done as much paddling lately, and my energy might not have been as relaxed), or something in the air… Maybe it was the coyote I saw, munching the remains of a male Bufflehead…

The vultures at least seemed relaxed

The vultures at least seemed relaxed

So I decided to find myself something different to shoot (maybe ducks just get nervous about that whole “getting shot”), and headed towards some mudflats where I was able to find some delightful shorebirds (which are always so much fun with all that energy), which were much easier to approach.

I began with the Marbled Godwits. They've long been one of my favorites, since they were one of the first birds I learned to identify

I began with the Marbled Godwits. They’ve long been one of my favorites, since they were one of the first birds I learned to identify

It was when I found some of my smallest birds of the day however, when I was able to really settle in and find my groove. As they moved their way down the muddy shoreline, I was able to ground the kayak in the shallows, and await their approach, with the sun at my back. Good lighting and cooperative subjects, what more could one ask.

I was noticed from time to time...

I was noticed from time to time…

To really show you the frenetic energy of these tiny birds, I set my camera up to shoot a little video, that I will try to share tomorrow or Tuesday. I’m very happy with the quality I was able to get. It’s almost hard to tell that it was shot handheld.

But, I was unworthy of true worry, as they went about their normal life of feeding and scratching those troublesome itches

But, I was unworthy of true worry, as they went about their normal life of feeding and scratching those troublesome itches

And so I sat there in my kayak, clicking away as I watched and studied these little birds, enjoying them. I lost myself to the viewfinder as I followed one bird, then another with my lens, freezing moments in their lives. From time to time I’d come back to myself, to realize that my kayak was left out of the water by the outgoing tide, and I’d have to try to pole my way back out into deeper water.

Nothing like a good stretch.

Nothing like a good stretch.

Before a nice pose

Before a nice pose

OK, shake it off. Get back to feeding.

OK, shake it off. Get back to feeding.

As I paddled away, I realized I lost something. As I looked around, trying to find a missing bit of equipment, I saw a young hungry gull beginning to feed-

What is that tasty treat?

What is that tasty treat?

Yeah, it’s the eyecup to my viewfinder. It had fallen off of my camera, and this juvenile Western Gull was trying to make a meal of it. I was now in a tricky spot. I didn’t want the gull to think I was coming after the eyecup, or else it would do one of two things- eat it before I could steal it (which would not be too healthy for the gull), or else fly away with it, leading me on a merry chase. So slowly, I began to wind my way towards it.

And of course the gull was acting a little shy with its treat

And of course the gull was acting a little shy with its treat

Finally, it dropped the eyecup and stepped away, as it tried to decide how best to proceed with its new treat. I took my opportunity and scared it off before it could reclaim its prize.

All in all, a beautiful day full of adventure.

Posted in birds, kayak photography, marine life, nature photography, Photo Essay, photography, shorebirds, wildlife photography | Tagged , , , , , , | 17 Comments

The Six Pack


This post isn’t about some amazing wildlife experience. It’s not me waxing poetic about the delights of photography. I suppose it at least takes place outdoors, and has a little something to do with the… er… human animal. No, it’s all much simpler than that. I just thought this guy was kind of gutsy about how he showed off his six-pack stomach. I was impressed, and I hope you are too.

I don't think cast-iron stomach is the phrase for it, and somehow aluminum clad just doesn't have the same ring.

I don’t think cast-iron stomach is the phrase for it, and somehow aluminum clad just doesn’t have the same ring.

Posted in photography, portraits, SLR | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Chilly morning frost


I had to run out early this morning, to run some errands. As I was returning, the sky was beginning to lighten and I saw fields frosted white, stretching into the distance and wrapping around a creek that feels the influences of the tide. Though I had places to be, I could not resist, and had to go for a frosty little trek. And I realized I am a pushover when it comes to photographing frosty thistles.

So I suppose icy, pointy things just make me want to take pictures...

So I suppose icy, pointy things just make me want to take pictures…

And I as I was tromping through the frosty, icy muck, a few things passed through my mind- I was very happy that the rich organic mud was to nearly frozen to stink as much as it often does, and secondly that this is what being a photographer is all about. Stopping to create photographs when something catches your eye, simply because you can’t resist, while everyone else keeps driving by, lost in the frenzy or drudgery of daily life.

I'm not  big fan of the invasive Queen Anne's Lace, but it can make for some fun frosty images

I’m not big fan of the invasive Queen Anne’s Lace, but it can make for some fun frosty images

As I walked further I was treated to some gems left by the outgoing tide. Feathers and leaves formed from ice crystals as the water levels dropped, leaving delicate traceries and patterns hanging from the stalks of reeds.

False leaves created by an outgoing tide, getting ready to wither as the suns rays caress them

False leaves created by an outgoing tide, getting ready to wither as the suns rays caress them

It was a good day to stop and smell the ice roses.

Winter blooms

Winter blooms

What is it about ice crystals that draws us in?

What is it about ice crystals that draws us in?

Posted in California, nature photography, Photo Essay, photography, road side | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Learning nature through photography


I imagine some of you have had the same experience as I’ve had, where one day you picked up a camera and began taking photographs, and that those photographs brought you deeper into the natural world. Before I became addicted to photography I enjoyed hiking, camping, and being out in nature, but I didn’t understand the natural world too well, and my knowledge was more superficial than I could ever have imagined.

When I would head out hiking, I would enjoy the coolness of the shade under the trees, the singing of the birds in their branches, the sounds of small animals rustling in the undergrowth, and glory in the majesty of a hawk circling in the sky. I enjoyed nature, but I was a tourist when I would head out- oohing and awing as I pointed to the sights. I enjoyed nature, but I never tried to make it past first base (so to speak). I knew the names of a few species of the most common birds- robins, jays, seagulls, swallows… not even realizing that many of the names I knew weren’t even specific names, but general tags for types of birds. I suppose if someone asked me, I would have suggested that there were thirty or forty types of birds in the area I lived in… never realizing, that in just my corner of the world there are over four hundred species of bird, and approximately 10,000 in the world. It was the same with trees and insects. I knew general types, but not specifics. I had no idea how much diversity was in the world around me.

When I first took this photograph, I thought of it as just "a hawk," never realizing that there are over twenty species of raptor seen regularly near where I live

When I first took this photograph, I thought of it as just “a hawk,” never realizing that there are over twenty species of raptor seen regularly near where I live

Then I began hiking with a camera. I’d photograph a bird or a flower, and I would wonder what it was that I had just captured. I’d get home, and I’d start looking for answers. I began buying field guides and looking online. The more I learned, the more I realized how little I knew. Not only had I not realized how rich and full the world around me was, I’d never known what to look for to differentiate between different plants and animals. And so I learned more about the structure of the different organisms around me, as I learned how to identify them. And then, through reading and observing I began to learn the interactions between many of the lifeforms around me.

Here are three different species of cormorant. I had to learn the ways in which they were different, which also led to an understanding of how they are the same

Here are three different species of cormorant. I had to learn the ways in which they were different, which also led to an understanding of how they are the same

In order to photograph an otter eating, I first had to learn that we had otters in the area where I live, then that the local otter is the North American River Otter. Then I had to figure out what they ate, what habitats they fed in, and what times of day (or night) they are most active in. Then I had to spend time observing them and photographing them. I had to discover how close I could approach without disturbing them in their natural state.

One of my first images of a North American River Otter (Lutra canadensis) eating a fish

One of my first images of a North American River Otter (Lutra canadensis) eating a fish

And as I learned about the river otters and came across them with more regularity, I was able to capture them in more aspects of their life- grooming, at play and at rest. The more I knew, the better the images I came away with.

A portrait of three otters that climbed onto a rock for a little rest and to watch the watcher

A portrait of three otters that climbed onto a rock for a little rest and to watch the watcher

Until finally I was able to get some great action shots, and even video. I’m going to keep learning about otters, and improve the images I’ve taken, but I’m reaching a point where I feel as though I can represent them pretty well through my photography.

Almost makes you want some sushi, eh?

Almost makes you want some sushi, eh?

And it’s been the same with so many birds, animals, and plants. When I photograph a new one, I hunger to learn about. As I learn about it, I want to photograph it even more, and my photos keep improving. Also, knowing who and what the local critters are, helps a photographer to realizer when an unusual one shows up. I’d photographed Common Loons (Gavia mimer) many times and was quite familiar with them. Then one day, a loon that looked very similar to a Common Loon showed up, but it just seemed big. And so I began to shoot some pictures and to study this loon, and I began to notice some other differences. Its beak seemed a little thicker and heavier, and the color was a little off. I was photographing a Yellow-billed Loon (Gavia adamsii) a rarity in my area. It stuck around for a while, and as I learned about it, I was able to encounter it several more times.

The Yellow-billed Loon that I was able to photograph and study from my kayak

The Yellow-billed Loon that I was able to photograph and study from my kayak

Now when I travel, if I can’t find bird and nature guides to buy before I travel, my first stop when I land is at a local bookstore, so that I can find books about the natural world that I am visiting. When I visited New Zealand, I landed not knowing a single bird (except perhaps those blasted English Sparrows that you can’t escape from). By the end of the two weeks I could identify well over half of the birds in my book without having to reference its pages, and many of them I could also ID by sound.

Inside Aukland's airport we came across our first bird- the English Sparrow. Just because it looked nearly the same and lived wild inside a building didn't stop me from snapping a shot

Inside Aukland’s airport we came across our first bird- the English Sparrow. Just because it looked nearly the same and lived wild inside a building didn’t stop me from snapping a shot

Luckily we were also able to spot some birds such as the endangered and endemic Weka while we were in NZ

Luckily we were also able to spot some birds such as the endangered and endemic Weka while we were in NZ

Much of this pushed its way into my thoughts the other day, after I took a friend out for a kayaking adventure. I was able to paddle along beside him, telling him about the various birds and marine mammals we were seeing. I was able to point out some of the geographical differences between the different parts of Tomales Bay. The ecosystem was there in my head, both above water and underwater, and it was all because of my photography, and the drive it has given me to learn more about the world. At the end of our outing, my friend expressed his amazement not only of the beautiful bay, but also of the fact that he felt as though he had his own nature channel with voice over playing around him as we explored.

Slowly my book shelves fill with field guides, and my brain with names and faces that are to be found only outside the confines of my home, and the fuller I become the hungrier I get. I hope I never lose my appetite! Thanks to photography, my outlook on the natural world has increased immeasurably, as well as my understanding of that world. Thank you for letting me share what I learn about nature with all of you, and hopefully the more we understand nature, the better we will be equipped to save it and share it with future generations.

Posted in documentary, kayak photography, nature photography, Photo Essay, photography, wildlife photography | Tagged , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

The drive for the better photograph


While I have done a bit of driving around to find a better vantage or hunting new landscapes and vistas, that is not the sort of “drive” I am talking about.I’m thinking more of the drive that makes us pursue more and better photographs of people, places, and things we have already captured.

I remember how proud I was of my first photographs of an elk. (You can see those photos and read about how not to approach an elk here- The Elk and the Tripod) I thought those images were amazing, that I was nearly ready to hop on a plane somewhere and work for National Geographic as a wildlife photographer. And yet, I kept going out, searching for more elk to photograph, thinking that I might somehow manage to capture some better images… And I am very glad I did. Looking back, those first images were almost laughable compared to some of the ones I’ve captured since.

_MG_4193-WM

Young bull elk with velvet peeling from its antlers and females watching from behind

Young bull elk with velvet peeling from its antlers and females watching from behind

IMG_6079-WM

And I realize now, that this image of a young elk is not the best photograph I can take of an elk. It may be one of the best I’ve done so far, but I can do better, I can keep improving. I can show more stages in the life cycle of an elk, capture different faces, different activities. I haven’t even come close to exhausting the possibilities with the few hundred images I have taken of them. There is a hunger to outdo myself… I suppose when I am out photographing, it is a very competitive activity, but the one I am competing with is myself.

The first Bobcat I ever shot. I was very proud of this image, and if I hadn't taken so many better shots since, it would still be one of my favorites

The first Bobcat I ever shot. I was very proud of this image, and if I hadn’t taken so many better shots since, it would still be one of my favorites

There comes a point, when you realize that something is good, maybe even really good, but that you can do better, that you can explore more of the world and share the world in better and more expressive ways.I have so many photographs that I’ve taken that I think are just fantastic and amazing, but that isn’t going to stop me from trying to go out and create even better, more expressive images.

The next time I captured a bobcat with my camera, the results were much improved.

The next time I captured a bobcat with my camera, the results were much improved.

It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve photographed a species, if I feel I am in a situation where I can get better photographs or ones that show a different aspect of that species, then I am going to try for those photographs, even if I don’t have an immediate use for them.

Bobcat sitting and contemplating the world. A very different take on the bobcat from my other images

Bobcat sitting and contemplating the world. A very different take on the bobcat from my other images

I wouldn’t have the images that I do, if I didn’t hunger to improve and to share as much of the natural world as I can. It is the beast that gnaws from within. Sometimes the beast gets satiated, but then it comes back hungrier than ever. I hope you have your own inner beast, and that feed it all that you can

Bobcat stalking the shores. A fine image, but one that I will improve upon

Bobcat stalking the shores. A fine image, but one that I will improve upon

Posted in bobcats, elk, kayak photography, nature photography, Photo Essay, photography, ruminating, wildlife photography | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

Amazing photo opportunity


ENTRIES ARE NOW CLOSED

…and no, I’m not talking about a recent photographic adventure that I’ve had, but rather one that you, my dear readers, could go on yourselves… if you think you have what it takes.

National Geographic Channel and World Nomads have teamed up with award winning National Geographic photographer Jason Edwards to offer a one of a kind travel photography mentorship in Oman, where a single winner will learn what it is like to be on assignment for National Geo, as he/she shoots on a new Canon 6D and assist Edwards with his work. It sounds like too amazing of an opportunity to not let all of you know about it. This is your chance to learn from a photographer that is even better than I am, except hands on, and not through your computer screen. Get your foot in the door with the big boys, while having a photographic adventure. You’ll even have some of your best photos from the trip published.

You can learn more and apply here- Oman Travel Scholarship

Best of luck to all of you, and if one of you happens to win, please let all of us know about your adventure.

Posted in photography | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Cape Breton and its highlands


I’ve just left the most amazing place- Cape Breton Island, the eastern and northern most part of Nova Scotia. I’ve spent the last few days exploring it by car and by foot, and feel sorry that I have to leave, since there is still so much that I haven’t seen or experienced, but my time is limited, and I must move on.

It’s rained on me a bit over the last few days, and while this has made it a little more complicated to bring my camera everywhere, it has also created a thousand streams, hundreds of waterfalls, and even a few rainbows (and one snowbow). Nova Scotia is already a land of water, this has just made it more so.

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I’ve crossed countless bridges, pausing to admire the streams and rivers they’ve crossed. I’ve found myself on ferries, when I’ve taken wrong turns, but its been all to the good, adding to the adventure. Bald Eagles have flown along with my car, and sent me scrambling for pullouts and my camera, often moments too late. I’ve met people that have put a smile on my face, as they’ve been warm and hospitable. And I’ve taken photographs. Sometimes of places that had names, but often just because somewhere or something caught my eye.

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This morning I had what was the closest I’ve been to a sunrise. The sun broke through some clouds, while I was stopped to photograph a pair of Bald Eagles. The light turned that warm golden color that we love as photographers, so I allowed myself to become distracted from the birds (they were rather distant at this point anyways) long enough to take some landscapes. These are just some teaser photos, as I am having a technical issue with getting the real photographs from my main camera to my computer. Don’t despair, when I arrive home in a few days, all will be well.

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I largely toured Cape Breton Island by way of the Cabot Trail, the name of which can be a little misleading, as it is really a road that you drive (a long road, eight or more hours of driving time). It winds from the sea up into the highlands (steep plateaus with striking vistas down to the sea hundreds of meters below), and back down to the sea, in an almost endless dance of terrains and altitudes. It has been argued by many that it is the most scenic drive in North America, and I must admit that it is very striking. I am with holding judgement however, as I still have many corners of this continent to explore.

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I must admit however that when I walked back to my rental car today after one of my many hikes, it did look as though I had stepped into a car commercial, with the rugged landscape, and the rare sunshine (it had been snowing on me ten minutes before).

Over the next few days I will work my way back towards Maine, exploring a little more of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Bay of Fundy. I know not what road I will take, what path I will find under my feet, but rest assured, if I find one of interest, I will share it with you…

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Posted in Canada, My favorite Parks, nature photography, Nova Scotia, photography | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Why did you come here? I mean now?”


We’ve been here four days now, traveling and exploring, and since we’ve been traveling around, exploring, and engaging the locals of northern Maine and New Brunswick, we seem to get two questions, the second inevitably right on the tail of the first (that first question being “Where are you from?”) This is the natural question, the one that we expect. It is part of the exchange when you meet your hosts or bond with other travelers of the trails. It is what comes up as you learn a place and it learns you. It is normal, expected. It is the next question that has surprised us, although I suppose it shouldn’t- “Why are you here? I mean why now?”

You see, we are from California, which people always think of as warm and sunny, a land of beaches and bathing suits- like on Baywatch, and we’ve just arrived in a world that is cold and gray, with large storms on the way (“Sandy” has been the watchword for the last few days). Hotels and restaurants are closing up for the season (in California we didn’t even realize that there were still places that shut down for the season), and everyone here is dreaming of a warm, sunny place, where it never rains, kind of like… California. (Or how they picture it. My part of California is often cold, grey, and beautiful, with some nice weather occasionally thrown in.) They can’t imagine why anyone would leave their imagined paradise for cold and blah, where even the garbage cans have to be winterized in the parks.

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Well, what can I say… I’m a photographer. I like the moodiness of storm clouds, the mystery of fog. Cold and frost bring color to the leaves, before they drop to the ground. Endless sunshine without any clouds gets boring, especially in photographs. While winter days are coldest, when the sun shines they have some of the best and warmest light to give life to photos. I like to explore and learn places, and not just when they are at their ideal. I like character.

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And so we tell them that we are there, because it is a beautiful land, and we like adventure. We explain to them that we prefer this quiet time without crowds. And they agree that it is beautiful, and you can see in their eyes, that even though they might temporarily trade where they are for a place in the sun, they wouldn’t give it up, that they know and appreciate the area’s charm and grace better than we do, even as winter is bearing down. They are there because it is a place worth being, and we are there for the same reason. They might still look at us a little funny, but a bond has been made, even if just for a moment.

And so we ride on ferries through storm tossed seas, just us and the locals… or sometimes just us, as we explore and learn their part of the world, when it really is theirs and not just the tourists’.

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Posted in Canada, landscapes, maine, National Park, nature photography, photography, weather | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments