The other day I went to the Mead Wildlife Area which is south of where I live, down in the lower section of Marathon County and crossing over into two other counties. My reading led me to believe there might be opportunities to photograph some wildlife, probably birds, so I brought my longest lens and I am so glad I did. It’s migration season and birds are restless this time of year.
While walking near the Visitors’ Center I noticed some really large white shapes in the distance. For a second I wondered if there was a small airport nearby. When a couple more appeared I got the binoculars and saw they weren’t planes, but birds. Only two white birds have wingspans wide enough to be mistaken for small planes; trumpeter swans and whooping cranes. Two approached and I followed with the binocs as they flew in low right over my head and landed in a small pond to my left. Amazing. I almost couldn’t focus the binoculars that close.
Aren’t they great?
Not being an experienced wildlife photographer, I followed my instinct which was to give them time to settle in. So I hung back and shot them with the long end of the lens, getting some of their environment into the photo as well. Then I walked away from them, out of sight of each other, to a bird blind at the end of the trail. It was well constructed and situated and I might use it in the spring migration period.
Then I walked back toward them. Slowly, stopping frequently to set up the tripod and occasionally just watching them with the binoculars. It worked. They came out from the grass and gave me a good once over. I got closer. They didn’t seem to mind. On the contrary, they seemed curious about this weird creature with all the legs. Soon I didn’t have to use the long end of the lens anymore.
As I’ve said before, I need practice with my 100-300mm and while I’m not glad it wasn’t whooping cranes I saw (and want to kick myself if I missed the shots), trumpeters were a fine subject for some practice. I still need to find a handheld technique, but with the tripod a single point of focus worked because I could change it quickly on the screen with my finger. Handheld using a multi-focus-point setting caused the camera to hunt a lot and miss focus. I’ll have to experiment more with it.
The light was reasonably bright, but still somewhat diffused by clouds and so the ISO didn’t get cranked too high. I use a custom mode I created for the GH3 that is shutter priority and auto ISO. That way I can freeze action with a high shutter speed, but not worry about aperture or light sensitivity. I also change from a single shot with the press of a shutter, to multi shot. And that’s how I got this next image –
I spent about an hour with this pair and took a ton of pictures, only a few of which I like enough to publish. Mostly it’s because they just won’t pose. Lol. I get why patience is the thing you need most in bird photography. Patience and time because as you see above, eventually one of them will do something and if you’re lucky, observant and know your gear, you’ll get the shot. I love how this one shows how the feathers are arranged on those amazing wings. And the depression in the water from the downdraft. Oh and if you look close, you can see water droplets on its breast and belly. So wonderful.
A while ago I posted about photographing birds in my yard and it taught me that I have a lot to learn about that kind of work. I’m MUCH more comfortable with small critters, so here’s a couple I found recently in the yard.
The first is a snapping turtle which I think had to be only a day or two old because
- it didn’t smell
- it didn’t have algae on it
- it wasn’t a crabby, bitey menace
Instead it was pretty mellow. Maybe the ‘tude takes a while to develop. Comes with size I would guess. Or the smell. I’ve seldom met big snappers who wouldn’t take your arm off given the chance. Sometimes I see really big ones in the river while I’m in the kayak. In my head I know they’re more afraid of me than I am of them, but they still give me the willies. Like one of them is going to come up out of the murk and bash my boat. This little guy though was pretty calm and easy to photograph. I put him in front of a log to use as a backdrop and got right down there with him. Everything about it has such terrific detail. It was only a couple of inches long. The only snapping turtle safe to handle; the ones that fit in the palm of your hand.
If you live anywhere but in the nitty-gritty urban city-scape, you’ve heard spring peepers filling the night with their mad song. It’s one of the things I look forward to most in spring; the first time I hear the peepers as the sun goes down. Weirdly though I’ve never actually seen one until the other day when one showed up on the deck.
I had to grab my field guide to figure out what it was. There is a bit of color variation in the species, but they have a distinctive X marking on their backs that nails the ID. I’m always amazed when I look at tiny creatures close up. If you enlarge the shot above you can see blood vessels in the arm on your right. The skin and bones are so delicate. Look at those wee toes! I thought it was pretty scared and backed off only to have it leap to the floor and give me enough time to change lenses for a more artsy shot –
It’s not even an inch long. How does something so small make such a big racket?
Here are some more “neighbors”! First a common loon –
I wish there was a way to know if this is the same loon that hung around the flowage last year. According to a book I read about loons, they often return to the same body of water they were born on, or one nearby. Pairs often nest in the same location for years. Because this particular section of the river doesn’t seem to be protected enough for loons to nest, I think the ones that stay here are non-breeding adults. This is a period of 1-3 years that occurs just after fledgling. These birds will often have to take bodies of water that don’t have an already established pair. The next flowage up river has a pair of loons nesting (it has a really large swath of small trees and bushes that they seem to like). I wonder if this adult, or the one from last year if they’re not the same, are offspring from prior seasons. No way to know, but just one of the eternal mysteries of the common loon.
Next up is a mother mallard and her eight babies –
I think she must have laid her eggs nearby because I saw her quite a bit on the banks to either side of the dock. My husband and I had been sitting out on the far end of the dock for a while when she came from up river, keeping close to the edge where the trees and bushes provided cover for her brood. For a while she herded them around and over the low-hanging branches and they gobbled up anything they could reach; sometimes coming up off the surface in a big stretch, little wings flapping, catching a bug as it raced to escape up a twig. So cute you could hardly believe it. In this shot they’re a little older and a lot bigger, but still pretty cute. Mom was leading them around the dock to the down river side. When they’re smaller they don’t string out behind like this, but stay bunched up all around her, touching her if they could.
Both pictures were taken from the dock using my 100-300mm zoom in shutter priority mode with auto ISO. They’re handheld and I find that keeping the shutter speeds above 1/2000s of a second works fairly well if I’ve got the battery grip attached. I’m getting a bit more adept with it, but damn I still need practice. It’s very hard for me to keep the bird in focus as it moves. I have many shots of the loon with the water in front of it perfectly crisp, but the bird itself hopelessly out of focus. There’s got to be a better way to do this. I just need to figure it out.
have been greatly exaggerated.
The move to Wisconsin is complete and we’re good and settled in. We love our house to bits. The country is really beautiful, the lake is a lot of fun and the neighbors we’ve met have been great. There’s even a local coffee shop where we hang out for some local color and have laughs with other folks who live on this section of river. It’s the Wisconsin river and particularly the Grandfather Flowage. That’s the part of a river between 2 dams, this section has the Grandmother and the Grandfather, both of which make electricity so the water is always moving a little and the level never gets too high or too low; hence the name flowage.
Anyway, being where we are has some challenges. The biggest is the internet. It sucks. There is no cable at all and so that leaves satellite or cellular. For now we’re using cellular, but are limited to 20gb per month. Yep, that’s it. So given that the images I work with are so large, I’m going to batch upload to my photo sites when I get to the library and can use the wifi there. Luckily we have a pretty great library system up here in the Northwoods so it shouldn’t be an issue. It will be weird though and I won’t be able to post nearly as often to those sites. At least I can upload high quality images though. You should see the crap that comes from keeping jpegs under 100k. The horror, the horror.
Here are some shots that are processed and uploaded. They’re from a kayak trip upriver. I really need a longer lens for bird photography. This little green heron was very patient and let me drift rather close, but eventually it spooked and off it flew. We also have a resident loon that I see or hear pretty much every day. It seems to hang out within sight of our dock quite a bit.
Because the flowage is fairly large (750+ acres) and there’s a lot of wind, the chop can be merciless. When a still day comes around I jump on it though and believe me, it’s nice being able just to be able to walk into the backyard and put the kayak in the water.
Eventually I’ll strap it to the car and explore other areas, but for now this section of the river will do. There’s a great little side channel (where I found little greenie) about 40 minutes up river and it looks like it shelters a lot of nesting birds. I found a bunch of sites that are no longer used since the babies are so much older now, but it’s still got a lot of ducks, mergansers, herons and I think, a great horned owl. I’ve scared off a really large, silent bird twice now and that’s what I think it is. Maybe one day I’ll be able to photograph it instead of scaring it. Gonna need a longer lens though. Next time that 100-300 Panasonic goes on sale, I’m grabbing one.
Anyway, some more shots will be coming when I can get back to the library and wifi. My new yard is a haven for macros and other photography, so there’s plenty to keep me busy. Plus there’s tons of abandoned stuff around here – houses, barns, farms, cabins…it’s crazy. Stay tuned and thanks for waiting for me to get back to the land of the living. European vacation post coming soon! Brussels! Amsterdam! Bruges! We’re not in the woods anymore.
Wow is this post late, hey at least it’s still Q1. As usual, I had some trouble coming up with what I felt are the best photos I took last year. Strangely it was because a lot of it was pretty darn good if I do say so myself. So that meant I had to really examine each one and separate myself from the emotion of taking it or experiencing that particular time and place. Focusing on the final image as well as cutting down on the number of similar images also helped. Fall is fabulous, but including more than a couple shots just made the collection seem stagnant.
Let’s get to it, shall we? These are in chronological order, btw.
1. It’s hard to take a bad picture in Big Sur. This one made the cut because it’s got terrific color, tones and atmosphere. The touch of fog made the foreground more interesting than it would be without it and the striations in the sky make up for the lack of clouds (at least a little). It’s not stunningly original work, but so what?
2. I’m not a wildlife photographer so the annual elephant seal invasion at Big Sur was a challenge for me to shoot in a couple of ways. Mostly because even though it doesn’t look like it, the darn things move. Lol. I had to change up my focus style and be patient for little scenes to come about, like these two males having a practice fight. The light isn’t the best, but I love the fact that no other seals are concerned and there’s just the one looking at the camera as if to say, can you believe these guys? Also love the sprays of sand frozen in the air. Just another day at the beach.
3. I try to get to The Garden in the Woods every spring for the profusion of wildflowers on display. Especially since many are rare and I’ve never seen them in the wild. These bluebells for example. I absolutely love the arrangement, the light and the bokeh in this shot. It was pure serendipity that I happily took advantage of. There was a slight breeze and the light changed second to second so I had to work fast. Not to mention the hordes of kids going by with their teachers. If I hadn’t known what I wanted and how to get it quickly, I wouldn’t have gotten it.
4. Sometimes one of your best shots happens while you’re waiting for another. This is Indian Cucumber which I’d shot once before, but this image stands out for me because I was able to get down well below the plant which gave me quite a bit of distance between the camera and the flower. It’s that distance that renders the background so smooth and uniform. The smooth uniformity creates negative space, something I don’t use as often as I probably should. It’s dramatic and focuses your attention more than a busy picture. When I shot it I thought I’d leave it in color since it is quite vivid, but when I started to process it, the graceful shape and wide color tones was a natural for monochrome.
5. This image has been in my head for a while and it was the shot I was waiting for when I took the one just above. When I headed out I thought the cloud cover would persist. It didn’t. I took a few test shots from different vantage points, just to get an idea of the best compositions. Then I decided to find other things of interest, no need to abandon the location just yet. I did not wander far. While photographing the flower above I noticed a couple of raindrops on my screen and pretty much ran back to the waterfall to set up for this shot. The light lasted about 8 minutes. One. Tiny. Cloud. I set up, shot and got what I wanted in that short period of time. I love the balance in this image and the greenery. It seems to glow with life and vitality. Persistence, patience and experience made the most of a sliver of good luck. Thank you tiny cloud.
6. Another shot that took quick thinking and a bit of luck. I scared this little garter snake off the path and there it froze in the undergrowth. I watched it for a bit, thinking it would slither off. When it didn’t, I decided to try to get a shot of it standing up as tall as it could. That meant changing lenses and a few settings on the camera. Amazing that it stood there while I did that and let me get one shot. One. Like the cloud. I got the focus, the DOF and the exposure in one go. Then it was off, dissolving into invisibility.
7. Autumn is a no-brainer for photography, but I love this shot because I took it from my kayak. It was a perfect day and I’d had a couple seasons’ worth of practice for this kind of landscape work. Anchoring to compose is a bit tough when there’s enough current in the water so aligning this image took a bit of work, but I got it. I really like the balance and the colors are so vivid. It’s so inviting. And clouds! Bonus!
8. Not many of my macro photos are this visually striking so even though it’s a common ladybug (with lunch victim) I think it stands out. The focus is darn good and that bokeh (thanks to the Olympus 90mm legacy macro) is just dreamy. I only noticed the little guy sheltering under a leaf after I’d been shooting something else, but when I did I knew I had to give it a go. It’s the singularity of the line that draws the eye, then recognition of the subject, which is cute so appealing. The negative space provided by the smooth background makes that work and the raindrops are a final touch that adds a sense intimacy and a bit of sympathy. The little hunter is just trying to get out of the rain and have a nice meal. Not many of my images are as emotional as this one and so I think it stands out.
9. This one is in here for a couple of reasons, first because I’ve been searching for this flower for YEARS and second because I think the photo works on multiple levels. Artistically and stylistically it works well; the colors are complimentary and the angle of view unusual. The focus is encompassing enough, but the bokeh helps the texture stand out even more. From a purely documentary approach I think it showcases the flower specimen quite well. I could see this in a guide book. Plus check out that little guy upside down in the center blossom. Don’t know what it is, but it wasn’t shy. Ah pinesap, how you made my day!
10. Recently there’s been a stir in some photography circles about over-photographing certain places (like Delicate Arch or Half Dome). To some extent I agree and sometimes I wonder if the world needs another shot of something done hundreds of times. There aren’t many places in New Hampshire that qualify, but Beard Brook in Hillsborough is one. It has a beautiful stone arch bridge that is lovely, but very popular with photographers. I went there anyway and took this image downstream from the bridge. I kept one eye on the light and the other on my footing and pretty much raced to get set up on a huge boulder. Managing the polarizer to minimize glare off the leaves, but maximize reflection in the water took a bit of finagling, but I got it. The sun lights the trees from top to bottom, but stays out of the water. I hadn’t planned to get this shot, but when presented with the perfect set up, I took it.
11. This was an “OMG honey, pull over!” shot. We were heading back to the hotel from the Bridger-Teton National Forest when I noticed the light. Specifically I noticed the aspens against the dark backdrop of the hill. Grand Teton was just a bonus. As the light was changing fast, I shot out of the car window, handheld. A minute later, the trees were in shadow. A little cropping and monochrome treatment in post and I think it’s a dramatic image that isn’t like every other shot of Grand Teton.
12. Ok, Grand Teton is irresistible. We didn’t have too many days of sun during our November trip and on our last day we decided to check out the Snake River using the only access we had since the main park road was closed. Who knew it would be a perfect day for reflections of those great peaks and that blue sky? I love this image for its balance and symmetry. Also for the semi-hidden grasses that are only partially lit by the low-angled sun. You can see a few ducks in there, too, if you look closely. We spent a few hours chasing them up river.
I hope you liked revisiting the highlights of my year. I’ve got a trip to Belgium later on, so maybe there will be some 2015 winners from across the pond!
This year has been one of seriously heavy rain here in New England. Luckily where I live we escaped serious flooding, but still our rivers, brooks and streams are very high. Good for one thing – waterfalls!! Recently I took a good friend of mine to see some near me and got some decent shots. I also went with another friend to see how the mighty Merrimack River is doing and we had a most amazing great blue heron encounter. So without further ado, here’s what I’ve been up to –
I also went to Ponemah Bog in Amherst for a sunrise. I forgot exactly which road to take to get there, so I was a bit late, but I did manage one or two with good light. The color is amazing in there – all the blueberry bushes and other plants turn first in the area. Plus there were like 300 geese in the pond making all kinds of noise. I didn’t get any shots of them for 2 reasons – 1) I had no long lens and 2) the boardwalks were in process of being replaced and weren’t too solid.
It’s a tough time of year for bees. I found a bunch of bumblebees on some asters the other day. They were chilled, sluggish and probably crabby. Totally picture worthy even though I had to test my patience waiting for the breeze to die down!
I did a little exploring down by the Merrimack River and found a spot where a small brook feeds into it. I spend some time photographing this little bridge which is about to be swept away in the torrent. Usually this brook is a trickle this time of year; the amount of rain we’ve had is unusual.
So while I was photographing this and yelling over the roar of the rushing water to my friend, we had another friend come to join us –
Up this way, GBHes are wicked skittish. They fly away whenever they hear me and the closest I’ve ever been to one was several dozen feet while hiding behind some trees. This one though was unconcerned about me or my friend. It stood and fished about 20 feet from us. Right before they strike, they stand still as statues which was good since I didn’t have the best light or lens for this kind of thing. When they do strike it’s so fast you can’t see it. The next thing you know the bird has a fish. This little one caught three while we watched. It was amazing and totally made up for the dead one we saw about 1/2 hour earlier. Given the currents and the storms we’ve had lately, I think these guys have had a tough time.
Anyway, I hope the weather clears up this week so I can get out and see about foliage and how it’s doing.
Been working on my microscapes this year. Experimenting with light mostly. Including dappled sunlight, trying for some drama and separation. That’s what the sunlight does in the woods, it highlights certain things and shadows others. It’s some of what makes the woods magical, at least to me.
Here’s one of a medium-sized painted turtle I found on a trail the other day. Boy was it feisty. Raring to go.
It was cooperative and surprisingly unafraid (compared to the Blanding’s turtle this one was posing!) so I carried it to a disused trail I knew to have a large vernal pool next to it. Before letting it go I had a little portrait session, deliberately putting the turtle in the shade with some sun to highlight the top of the shell and that great curve. It took a few minutes because try as I might, that turtle just wouldn’t take direction. Then it just stopped and gave me the stink eye. Perfect.
This next one is kind of fun. I love ferns as you’ve probably noticed, and these Christmas ferns are no exception. I found them on a trail that I took by mistake. Aren’t happy accidents great? The sun lit them up and I thought of seahorses. Someone else suggested dragons. The sun moved fast though and the shots I took right after this (I mean seconds after) don’t have that great highlight on the new fronds. It really was right place, right time. I copied the leading fern from last year from another shot I took earlier in the month that didn’t work out well. This time I think it does.
Both shots were done with my standard Zuiko Digital 12-60mm lens and both had some work in Lightroom done with the adjustment brush and the graduated filter tools. As I worked the fern image I realized the color version wasn’t cutting it. It had no punch unless I slid the saturation slider to ludicrous. So I switched to monochrome and yeah, baby, that was it. A little work with the color level sliders and I had what I wanted. I think it brings up the texture and shapes more than the color one does and that was what caught me in the first place. That and the ferns themselves all lit up. Ah spring, it is magical.
On the vacation side we’ve got a few more details buttoned down. Driving from Reno to Bishop on Sunday. I’m sure we’ll stop A LOT along the way. Highway 395 through there is supposed to be one of the most beautiful drives in the country. I read that another photographer tried to get to a trailhead outside Bishop the other day and was stopped by a 7-foot wall of snow in the road. It will definitely be an adventure. We’re going to try for Convict lake and canyon at any rate. Then a day at Mono Lake (OMG!!!) and some time a Bodie the preserved mining town. We’ll be a day in South Lake Tahoe and the options there are almost mind-boggling. Whatever we do I’m sure it will be great and I’ll try not to be an obsessive photographer.
Here’s a picture of a turkey –
well, two turkeys actually. I took this in 2006 in Montana. Probably was the OM-3 and the 65-200 zoom. I can’t remember if it’s slide or print film though.
Anyway, I hope you all have a good day whether you’re celebrating or not.