Archive for the ‘Wildlife photography’ Category

To Risk or Not to Risk (for a Photo)   13 comments

Orion rises behind Turret Arch in Arches National Park. Utah. To get a higher viewpoint where the arch wasn’t blocking Orion and the snow-capped La Sal Mtns., I climbed to a narrow ledge with a steep drop into blackness on three sides.

This question comes up more than I ever expected when I got serious about photography again and many years ago decided to join the digital wave.  I thought I was getting into a pursuit more sedate and less physical than the outdoor sports that had been breaking down my knees and other body parts for the better part of my life.  In some ways I was right.  Photography is less strenuous and much easier on the joints than mountaineering, skiing or mountain biking.  And that mostly translates to less risk of injury or death as well.

What I didn’t appreciate is how difficult it is to be forever satisfied with “safe” shots.  In my Friday Foto Talk series I discussed point of view and perspective at some length.  In all types of image-making, but especially in landscape photography, exactly where you place the camera makes a huge difference in the kinds of images you get.  I’m not saying you can’t get great shots from safe locations.  Many of my best images involved not much more than stepping out of the vehicle and walking a few yards away for the shot.

In Zambia’s Kafue National Park, I came upon this herd of Cape buffalo at dusk. Africans consider them the most dangerous animal. Needing a tripod for the low light, I got out of my 4×4 and approached them – but not too close!

That said, it’s a simple fact that when shooting landscapes and nature some subjects and situations demand hard choices.  You can stay safe and get the kinds of shots that anyone and everyone gets, depending on great light to make up the difference.  (But can it really?)  Or you can take risks, gaining unusual perspectives to capture images that are to some degree unique.  When and where you straddle the ever-shifting and subjective line between safe and risky is totally up to you.

These images recall times when I stepped across that line and scrambled (or waded or descended) to spots that are better approached with rope or other safety gear, not to mention a partner.  Or when I approached a dangerous animal.  Technology now offers risk-free ways to get similar images.  For example drones can go to places that would take great effort (and imagination) for a photographer to reach in person.

I thought a shot from within this sea cave on the California coast would be fairly unique, but it required scrambling inside, getting it and getting out quick before a big wave swamped me.

The effect of technology taking much of the risk out of our lives is another subject entirely.  But perhaps what’s most interesting about this topic is that our need to take occasional risks can be applied to all types of photography, and of course to life in general.  A portrait, wedding, even a food photographer must take risks too.  Unlike wildlife or landscape shooters, they don’t generally risk physical well-being (well, maybe the portrait photog. does when he chances the ire of his very particular model).  But the idea is the same.  If you do the safe thing all the time, you just won’t get very many images that spark special pride.

The shot of Courthouse Wash (Arches N.P., UT) from ground level has been done too many times to count, so I climbed up a steep route used by canyoneers to get this image from above.

I always recommend knowing your abilities, and knowing specifically when and how much to push them.  But if you’ve never thought about this before, it’s high time.  Think of all the ways you can take risks, in life as well as photography.  All the ways you can do it while avoiding near-death experiences.  And if you’re a nature/landscape person, all I can say is Good Luck!

Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge has become ultra-popular with photographers. I’ve spent a lot of time trying for unique perspectives. This one required off-trail scrambling to a steep perch above Oneonta Gorge.

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Single-Image Sunday: Evening at the Wetlands   4 comments

I’ve not been shooting much at all over the past year, which makes me sad.  But I’ve bought some new gear together lately and am trying to get out and use it as much as I have time for.  The other day I decided to try my luck at a local wetland.  The bird population definitely picks up there during the winter months.

Instead of using my long lens to zoom in for standard close-ups, I decided to try for wider angles of birds and/or gators in their environment.  This is one of the images, a blue heron perched at nest against the dusk sky.  I got some other birds in silhouette plus a gator, and I’ll post that soon.  I used my new camera, a Canon 7D Mk II, which I got for wildlife.  Since it’s a crop-frame, getting the good depth of field this image needed was a little challenging.  It was a very peaceful evening out there.

Viera Wetlands, Florida

 

Wordless Wednesday: Mtn. Bluebird Brings Home the Bacon   7 comments

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Wordless Wednesday: American Dipper in Her Neighborhood   16 comments

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Wordless Wednesday: American Bison = Buffalo!   7 comments

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Two for Tuesday: We’re Coming!   2 comments

If you want to see desert bighorn sheep, you can’t do much better than east Zion National Park in Utah.  Not the canyon itself so much; that can be a zoo in the warmer months.  If you travel east, through a couple spectacular tunnels, you come out in a wonderland of sandstone monoliths.  The bighorn sheep here are doing quite well.

I drove through my favorite part of Zion a couple days ago, stopping to take a short hike.  I saw two sheep browsing the spring growth and slowly pursued them, hoping they’d get comfortable with me.  They crossed the road and I crossed behind them.  Then I saw the babies & another female.

Mom was understandably shy about letting me get close to them, so I just watched as they climbed the steep sandstone.  Mom reached a viewpoint, but the kids were more careful.  They took their time, making sure each step was placed right.

Now they were very visible from the road and a few other cars stopped.   But since I had been with them for awhile, I ended up with a nice series, not just the one with them surveying their domain.  Stories and behavior are what I always hope for with wildlife.  I used my newish 600 mm. lens.  Enjoy!

Wait up mom, we’re coming!

Try and reach us now, haha!

 

Two for Tuesday: Characters   9 comments

 

;-)

😉

:-(

😦

Friday Foto Talk: Post-Processing, Part I   5 comments

The Grand Tetons appear  smaller than they really are in this wide view.  Often very wide-angle shots call for minimal processing.

The Grand Tetons appear smaller than they really are in this wide view. Often very wide-angle shots call for minimal processing.

Last Friday wrapped up the short series of posts on learning photography.  But I thought I’d follow up this week with one more thing you need to think about: post-processing.  This post will cover general considerations and decisions you’ll need to make.  Next time I’ll go into specific software choices.

When I first bought a digital camera, I was under the naive impression that the photos coming out of the camera were what they were.  I knew you could do fancy things with Photoshop, things like putting several pictures together to make a scene that looked like it belonged on a cover from a Yes album (a 70s era prog. rock band for all you millenials!).  Or even merging my face onto Arnold Schwarzenegger’s body (I never did that!).  But since I knew I didn’t want to get into any of that, I just didn’t see the need to buy software.

Although I was blissfully ignorant of the real situation, I was partly right.  I was shooting in Jpeg.  And when you shoot in Jpeg the camera edits pictures before it displays them on the LCD screen.  You can load those Jpegs into your computer and do a lot of extra editing of course.  But the whole idea of shooting in Jpeg is so that you can do a basic edit “in-camera” and get the pictures out without extra work.  Now we have things like Instagram, which does (often dramatic) extra work on pictures before they are shared on the internet.  And all of this without you spending any extra time.

Like the image above, this one from the Texas Panhandle is processed to maximize the details in the scene.  Above it's in the trees while here it's in the layered clouds.

Like the image above, this one from the Texas Panhandle is processed to maximize the details in the scene. Above it’s in the trees while here it’s in the layered clouds.

Through this entire series I’ve assumed you all are on the road toward excellence in photography, and that you want to optimize your time and money on that journey.  The bad news is that in order to fully control what your pictures look like you’ll need to learn to edit them using one or several computer programs.  And this takes even more time and money.  You can limit the damage for the latter by buying your software while taking a formal photography class (say, at a community college).  Student discounts on the most popular software by Adobe and others are very significant, often well over 50% off!  The time you spend learning is directly related to how quickly you pick up computer software.  My experience included a good amount of frustration, and I consider myself rather an ordinary image-editor.  You may have more success.  But however it turns out, if you embark on learning how to use photo software you will eventually become proficient.  So never mind the misplaced images and other screw-ups, the plateaus in learning.  Stick with it!

Fairly soft black and white processing is best for this simple image of fog and trees on the Sandy River delta in Oregon.

Fairly soft black and white processing is best for this simple image of fog and trees on the Sandy River delta in Oregon.

All I wanted to do with this flower shot from a recent trip to Grand Teton National Park was to highlight the blue.

All I wanted to do with this flower shot from a recent trip to Grand Teton National Park was to highlight the blue.

THE ILLUSION OF THE UNTOUCHED IMAGE

One more thing before I continue with recommendations.  You’ll occasionally see folks posting pictures on the web with a caption that seems to brag “straight out of camera”, or words to that effect.  I’m not sure why people do this.  Are they saying their photos are inherently so good that they don’t need any further enhancement on the computer?  Or are they building in an excuse for unedited images because they don’t think they measure up to their usual high standards?  Or are they just feeling guilty about being too lazy to edit?

Whatever it is, they are using flawed logic.  Digital photography is similar to film in a very fundamental way.  Just as with film, in order for a digital photo to be finished it has to be developed, or edited.  Whether you shoot in RAW or Jpeg, the picture that appears on your LCD has been edited on a computer – the computer inside your camera.  Often the editing is quite minimal, but depending on how advanced your camera is you can (automatically) do quite significant things to an image simply by adjusting camera settings.

I can understand if somebody wants to share a picture but they don’t have the time or inclination to edit it.  Just don’t pretend the image hasn’t been “sullied” by computer-based editing, and is thus somehow more pure than an edited shot.  In the film days I didn’t like to look at negatives; I wanted to see the finished product.  It’s the same with digital.  The image starts as a digital file – ones and zeroes – and then gets rendered by a computer (in camera or out) into an image we can all understand and appreciate.

Two wildlife shots are pretty rare for me in one post.  This is one of my favorite little animals in the world, the American pika.

Two wildlife shots in one post are pretty rare for me. This is one of my favorite little animals in the world, the American pika.

On a trip to Grand Tetons this past September I followed a creek up into the forest from where it entered a lake, and finally found this little waterfall.

On a trip to Grand Tetons this past September I followed a creek up into the forest from where it entered a lake, and finally found this little waterfall.

YOUR EDITING DECISION

The issue isn’t whether you want your images to look “photoshopped” or real.  The computer only makes images look unreal or unnatural if you tell it to.  No, the real issue is this:  do you want to invest the time and effort to learn software and take full control of the editing process?  Or would you rather just use the camera to edit your photos automatically?  Do you like the idea of an intermediate option, making quick choices using Instagram?  One final option is to hire one of the many outlets that’ll edit your photos for you?

I’m not here to convince you one way or the other.  It’s your time, your pictures.  And your choice on this doesn’t mark you as either serious or casual, pro or amateur.  Believe it or not, pros shoot Jpeg, using in-camera processing.  They’re sports photographers who need to get their photos of the game out to online outlets while the game goes on and they’re still shooting.  I made the choice to learn some software and do my own editing.  But I sometimes question that decision.  Sitting at the computer is not my favorite thing to do by a long shot!

What I’m saying is to think of using a computer to edit a digital image file just as you would using chemicals to transform a film negative into a beautiful color photograph.  How much you do to the file is up to you.  You can keep it as close as memory allows to the way the scene was as you squeezed the shutter button.  Or you can take off on a flight of fancy.  Or something in between.  Your approach will, of course, help to define your style.  But however you swing it, computer-based editing is an inseparable part of the image-making process.

The sun sets early these November days.  Good night!

The sun sets early these November days. Good night!

Single-image Sunday: Annoyed   6 comments

Bet ya think I’m going to talk about being annoyed.  No, even when I am annoyed I’ll try never to subject anyone else to my reasons for being so.  They only make sense at the time anyway.  No, this image is all about this buffalo (otherwise known as a bison) being annoyed with me.  If you’re familiar with American bison, you know they once roamed over most of the central parts of North America.  And that now they’re confined mostly to a few national parks, Yellowstone chief among them.

So you may think this shot is from Yellowstone, or possibly nearby Grand Teton National Park.  You may even know about the buffalo herd at Wind Cave, South Dakota, and think he lives there.

None of the above!  The truth is that I got a surprise when I visited the southern part of Oklahoma recently.  I had seen on the map that there was a wildlife refuge called Wichita Mountains NWR.  I also saw on the web that there were a small number of buffalo there.  Since it was a quick trip, I didn’t expect to see many buffalo, let alone get close enough for a good shot.

Towards dusk I happened to glance off into the trees while driving by and saw this youngish bull.  I stopped and walked around behind him.  Approaching slowly and watchfully, I kept some small trees between he and I.

Annoyed: check out his underside.

Annoyed: check out his underside.

I’ve learned to be cautious around buffalo, but how cautious often depends.  At times you can walk right up to them, drawing no more than a casual glance.  I don’t set out wanting to get too close of course.  But on several occasions while hiking in Yellowstone, I’ve rounded a corner and been confronted with one of the massive beasts lounging in the grass beside the trail.  If it is not autumn, this is not usually a panic situation.

I got close enough to this one to get his attention.  He immediately let me know that I had gotten close enough, thank you.  He turned and took a couple steps in my direction, fixing me with a glare.  If that wasn’t enough, he began to urinate.  That was my clue to back away.  There is a rule of thumb with any large (or even not so large) male animal.  Almost anytime you see them urinating, you can be sure it’s to send a definite signal: stay back!

There are other fairly obvious signals that buffalo give you.  One is when they arch their tail up in the air.  I’ve seen bulls do that during mating season, just before charging another bull.  Another clue is when they throw their huge furry heads about.  If you come upon a buffalo with an arched tail, who’s throwing his head around and urinating at the same time, you should definitely not approach any closer.  And strongly consider retreating.

Many tourists have been injured, some even killed, by bison.  At Yellowstone especially, people often approach too closely in an attempt to get a good picture.  They ignore the obvious warning signals that the bison (I think kindly) is giving them.  When questioned by rangers, some of these people don’t realize that they are wild animals.  And they seem to believe they are slow and ponderous.

True, buffalo go about most of their lives in slow-motion.  But that’s deceiving.  I’ve seen them run very fast and jump 6-foot high fences.  That’s 1500 pounds launching itself over a high fence!  When they want to be, buffalo can be very athletic and very cantankerous – a potentially deadly combination.  It’s amazing to me that more people aren’t rammed and gored, given how many apparently unobservant tourists visit Yellowstone.

So if you plan to visit one of the parks with buffalo, remember the signals, especially if it’s the fall mating season.  Stay safe, and have a great week!

Friday Foto Talk: Depth of Field III   13 comments

This Friday I’d like to continue with depth of field. But before I do I want to thank all those who contributed to my campaign to replace my camera gear (which tumbled over a waterfall several months back) and get back to showing you all some fresh material on this blog. I will be sending out a reminder email to those folks, to pick the images they want.

I didn’t make it all the way to my goal, but I got partway there. And that means something. I’m busy right now working 7 days/week doing the only thing I know how to do that makes me money quickly. And it’s actually legal, go figure! So it won’t be long before I make up the difference myself.

Make sure and check out the first two parts of this series: Part I and Part II.  They go over the basics behind depth of field.  The example here will show how to apply those basic principles in the field, so it’s important to know them.

Cape Ground Squirrel

I was traveling through Namibia when I took a break from the road.  Namibia is one country in Africa where you can very easily rent a car and take off on an impromptu road trip, like you would in the western U.S.  If the roads in the west were still largely unpaved that is.  

I strolled up a small ridge with my camera and one lens (a 400 mm.).  Suddenly directly ahead this cute little fellow popped his head up and looked at me with big dark eyes.  I had never encountered this rather tall slender rodent before.  Later I found out it was a cape ground squirrel, native to southern Africa.

Of course I wanted a shot of him, and quickly before he decided I wasn’t all that interesting.  But as usual my position wasn’t ideal.  A portion of the scrubby hillside formed the background not far behind him.  My lens only opened up to a maximum aperture of f/5.6.

Since I wanted a portrait that showed him plus a bit of the bare ground at his feet but little else, the hillside was a problem.  It was too close and would have been too much in focus, too distracting.  I wanted as shallow a depth of field as I could get.  But I was limited in what I could do.  I couldn’t open the aperture larger than f/5.6, couldn’t go longer than 400 mm., and couldn’t change lenses.

I was down to one option, changing relative distance between camera to subject and subject to background.  And since I couldn’t move closer without scaring him off, increasing the subject to background distance was all I had.

I grabbed a quick shot or two, in case he ran away. Then I slid down low, lying on my belly so that the hillside behind him was out of view. Now a much more distant ridge formed the background.  Problem was, the lower point of view put my little friend out of view.

So I waited, hoping that his curiosity would get the best of him.  Sure enough he popped his head up again.  Luckily his long tail (which is what fascinated me about him in the first place) trailed to the side.  I had been framing a vertical photo, but I quickly switched to get his tail in and fired off a few frames before he zipped off to continue his daily desert rounds.

The Cape ground squirrel lives in rocky areas of Namibia and South Africa.

The Cape ground squirrel lives in rocky areas of Namibia and South Africa.

I ended up with a pretty good shot of him, a key part of it being the smooth gray out of focus background. The shallow depth of field was afforded by a relatively long focal length of 400 mm. combined with the squirrel’s proximity to me relative to the distance between him and the ridge behind.  The low point of view resulted in the picture’s main weakness, an out of focus rock low in the foreground.

I tend to combine all the factors controlling depth of field (aperture, focal length and positioning).  But since focal length is pretty much dictated by the composition I’m after, aperture and positioning are the main variables.  I’ll move closer or farther from my subject, change point of view to move background forward or back, or ask my subject to move if that’s possible (I haven’t figured out how to speak to animals yet).  All the while I will adjust aperture to the degree that I can.

Of course I run into shutter speed limitations when adjusting aperture.  But it’s easy to mitigate that by adjusting ISO.  Better to have a little noise from a higher ISO than to have a blurry subject because of a shutter speed that is too slow.  I have ruined many a shot because I thought animals or people were perfectly still when they weren’t.  I’ve been a very slow learner in this regard.  Always shoot live subjects at somewhat faster shutter speeds than you think are necessary. 

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