Posts from the ‘abstract & artistic’ Category

Top Ten Creative Wildlife Images 2013

It’s that time of year to take stock of our shooting fortunes from the year past. For me, it was a mixed bag. I wanted to do more wildlife video but didn’t find the time for much. 2013 was also the year of the “Feathered & Furry 500,” my attempt to photograph 500 species of animals in Minnesota in one year [More on this in a post in the near-future]. And I did rack up a pretty big list…including over 220 species of birds. But I was also trying to be creative in my shots….More than the usual perfect light portrait.
In the next few days I will also post more “Top Tens” from 2013…Stay tuned!
Here are my favorites in no particular order:
American Crow CR4 Carlton Co MN IMG_7002American Crow in snowstorm. Taken near my house on the way to the gas station to get some milk for the family…The lesson? Always have your camera in the car. I really didn’t do much to the photo as the scene was already extremely contrasty. I did tweak the Levels and Curves to clip the whites and blacks in Aperture. Carlton County, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/640, ISO 160, handheld but braced on car window]

Black-capped Chickadee landing on feeder Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN MG_0074299Chickadee landing on feeder at dawn. I “previsioned” this shot but just had to wait for the right morning and get up the gumption to shoot in the cold of a winter morning. I underexposed by nearly two stops in order to put the backlit wing feathers in a medium tonal range. Yes, it could have been better if part of the bird wasn’t blocked by the feeder. My house, Carlton County, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/2500 second, ISO 3200, Handheld]

European Starlings Aerial Lift Bridge Canal Park Duluth MN IMG_9944European Starlings and Aerial Lift Bridge. I was photographing gulls in Duluth’s Canal Park when a large flock of starlings spooked from the bridge. I instinctively threw up my camera and started shooting. I really like the pattern and composition of this very “graphic” image, especially how the steel girders are all kind of converging in the center. The birds are nicely spaced too. Check the color version/variation below. Canal Park, Duluth, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f9 at 1/400 second, ISO 800, Handheld]

Bald Eagle CR4 Cemetary Rd Carlton Co MN IMG_0075809Bald Eagle Landscape. I didn’t “see” this composition when I clicked the shutter…I just pointed my lens out the window when I saw and eagle land there. Only later did I see the nice composition of vertical aspen trunks contrasting with the blueish background of distant pines. A bird-in-the-landscape shot that works. Carlton County, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/800 second, ISO 640, Handheld but braced on car window]

Herring Gulls lighthouse sunset Canal Park Duluth MN IMG_9938This is one of 3 images in this Top Ten that were taken within minutes of each other (the others were the startling/bridge silhouettes). Fortuitously, the gulls all perched in perfect locations to make this interesting silhouette. Duluth, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f18 at 1/400 second, ISO 800, Handheld]

Common Redpoll Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0076238Common Redpoll on snowy road. I laid flat on a snow-covered road to get this unique portrait of a Common Redpoll, a winter visitor to northern Minnesota. I blew out the whites to improve the high-key look of this shot. Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/1600 second, ISO 200, Handheld while laying on ground]

Trumpeter Swans 2 landing backlit sepia Monticello MN IMG_0073484Two Trumpeter Swans landing. Sepia tool in Aperture really helped this shot…The color version wasn’t bad, but the colors were a bit weird. If this happens to you, try and play with black-and-white or sepia color. Mississippi River, Monticello, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/1600 second, ISO 250, Handheld]

European Starlings Aerial Lift Bridge Canal Park Duluth MN IMG_9946 (see details on similar photo above)
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f9 at 1/400 second, ISO 800 Handheld]

American Crow CR4 Carlton Co MNIMG_7004American Crow in snowstorm Wide. Taken only seconds after the image at the top of the post but with a 10-20mm lens instead of a 400mm lens! I like the simple composition of 3 stark tree silhouettes and one bird tiny in the frame. Carlton County, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm, f6.3 at 1/640 second, ISO 160 Handheld]

Mallard blurIMG_0074579Mallard blur. A very slow shutter speed to portray frantically feeding Mallards on Lake Superior. Duluth, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f20 at 0.6 seconds, ISO 100 Handheld]

Sharp-tailed Grouse Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0072674Two Sharp-tailed Grouse in Tamaracks. One of my favorite images of the year (You may certainly disagree!) But I just love the composition of the one distant bird more obvious, then the closer bird more hidden in the trees. I wish I could say I designed this shot, but it was just a “haccident” (happy accident). Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/1000 second, ISO 160, tripod]

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Top Twenty Images of 2012

2012 is gone and I’ve had a chance to look at all my images from the year and pick my favorites. Time helps clear your vision. Some images I was crazy about right after I took them, are no longer exciting to me. Here I present my favorite images of 2012 in reverse order…Maybe not the most saleable nor necessarily the best portraits (which can be boring), but the shots that I kept coming back to..the ones that intrigued me…or were difficult to get…or were the most creative. And this last bit about creativity brings me to my big announcement for 2013…I will be releasing a new video: GET CREATIVE: WILDLIFE IMAGES BEYOND THE PORTRAIT this year. Stay tuned!

near Saginaw, Minnesota St. Louis County #20—The surprise image of the year…I was perusing photos from my June work for the Minnesota County Biological Survey when I found this very underexposed, blaah image. But then I saw the potential as a high-contrast black and white image. The result was a very graphic silhouette of a foraging Pine Warbler amongst the long delicate needles of a Red Pine. St. Louis County, Minnesota.

07-Best2012 Ruby-throated Hummingbird female and Liatris Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_0064370 #19—I spent much quality time with our backyard hummers this summer. We mainly hosted females but occasionally a bully male would show up…but never when my camera was in place. I was using flash and a Better Beamer to throw light onto the hummer but in this shot the flash did not fire. But I like the resulting softer look…No harsh light blasting the tiny bird. My home in Carlton County, Minnesota.

11-Best2012 blurred leaves Rock Pond Duluth MN IMG_0067511 #18—Fall leaves always seem to vex me…I have a hard time creating interesting images of the stunning scenes around me in late September/early October. On this windy day I used a tripod and a very slow shutter speed to render the leaves a colorful blur while the trunks remained relatively still. I like the contrast of white vs. orange and blur vs. sharp. Rock Pond, UMD, Duluth, Minnesota.

16-Best2012 Bald Eagle from firetower at Big Bog SRA Koochiching Co MN IMG_0055770 (1) #17—Eye-level Bald Eagle shots are not easy to come by! And this one has a story…It was taken 80 feet up in a firetower! I was visiting Big Bog State Recreation Area in far north central Minnesota and decided to climb the tower to get a bird’s-eye view of Lower Red Lake and surrounding forests. Some distant eagles caught my attention and I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if one flies past me in my aerial perch…And the miraculous part is that one did! It was not a gleaming white and black adult but rather a dramatically patterned youngster. I panned with the bird and amazingly it came out razor sharp.

18-Best2012 Swans geese St. Louis River fog Fond du Lac MN IMG_0055161 #16—I cross this bridge over the St.Louis River on the outskirts of Duluth every day on the way to work. It has many moods and this hazy spring afternoon created a bucolic and blue still life of swans, ducks, ice and trees.

IMG_0070171 #15—My youngest son, Bjorn, shows great promise as a wildlife photographer…At least he looks good in khaki!

19-Best2012 Cedar Waxwing Gunflint Trail Brule River Cook Co MN File0113 #14—Not a set-up! A fortuitous find that resulted in a very nice portrait with a little behavior too. This very rarely happens but it did this August morning on the Gunflint Trail. I’d just returned from a early morning paddle on the Brule River, loaded up the canoe and was pulling out of the dirt parking area when I spotted the foraging Cedar Waxwings in a heavily-fruited Mountain Ash.

15-Best2012 water lily File0169 #13—Just a very pleasing composition (to me anyway)…a water lily on dark water taken from a low angle to get the reflection. I also love the purplish lily pads. Cook County, Minnesota.

04-Best2012 Lower Yellowstone Falls IMG_0067608 #12—A very long exposure with my 10mm Sigma lens was made possible by a 9-stop ND filter. I love the soft ethereal feel of the powerful Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, belying the thunderous roar. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

17-Best2012 Snowshoe Hare Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0002136 #11—I had to include this portrait as I have been trying to get a decent winter Snowshoe Hare photo for years! And on this snowy Sax-Zim Bog day, I succeeded! The hare really felt it was invisible and stayed put as I crawled closer and closer through the snow.

12-Best2012 Abandoned house and tree Itasca Co nr Northome MN IMG_0055660_59_58_tonemapped 88-0-7-4-10 #10—Seems like I always slip in a non-nature subject. I really enjoy photographing vernacular architecture, including abandoned buildings like this farmhouse. A HDR image and sepia color finished it off. Itasca County, Minnesota.

10-Best2012 Polyphemus Moth Antheraea polyphemus detail Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_0057753 #9—Abstract macro image of a Polyphemus Moth’s wings turned upside down to create a strange “face” complete with big blue eyes and a puckered mouth. My home in Carlton County, Minnesota.

05-Best2012 Swinging bridge flood IMG_0058741 #8—The banner headline of 2012 for us Duluthians/Carltonians was the Great Flood of June. It affected all of us dramatically. But my most powerful image was this shot of the raging St. Louis River taking out the historic and much loved Swinging Bridge of Jay Cooke State Park. Read more here.

08-Best2012 Sharp-tailed Grouse Carlton Co MN IMG_0056142 #7—A rite of spring, the congregation of Sharp-tailed Grouse at their dancing grounds or leks, is an event I hate to miss. But it is always difficult shooting. They are most active just before sunrise when the light is poor…And it is April so the weather is often cloudy and windy. Visibility in the cramped blind is not great either. This time I resorted to a slow shutter speed and panning. I love the shot as it conveys the manic intensity of the males as they dance, pursue females, and chase off rival males. Carlton County, Minnesota.

09-Best2012 Moose bull called in Dumbell Rd Superior National Forest MN nr Isabella IMG_0066747 #6—One of the few straight-up wildlife portraits in the collection, but I had to include it. Much has been made of the dramatic decline of Moose in Minnesota…and it makes me very sad. They are one of my favorite mammals. I learned to call Moose years ago…imitating the sound of a female. After a several-year dry spell, I was able to call this young bull in this fall. Intense moments followed as he was deciding whether I was a cow Moose or some stupid human. Thankfully he came to the right conclusion! See the video here.

14-Best2012 abstract river rocks IMG_0069193 #5—Can you tell what this is? Colorful river rocks below a Yellowstone National Park stream. It’s funny…I really don’t like abstract painting but I love much abstract photography.

06-Best2012 Ring-billed Gull Duluth MN tungsten w-2 1-2 CTO gels on flash IMG_0065801 #4—Two icons of Duluth in one shot! The Aerial Lift Bridge and a Ring-billed Gull. Not your typical wildlife shot but one that is certainly unique. In this technique I learned from flash/lighting guru ??? you set your camera to tungsten white balance (to turn the dark brooding sky blue) and then use a flash with an orange CTO gel to throw a very warm light on the subject, in this case, a Ring-billed Gull.

13-Best2012 IMG_0068269 #3—Often times I’ll get home from a trip and when viewing my images in Aperture, I’ll come across an unexpected prize. It’s like Christmas as a kid! I thought I knew what my favorites would be from viewing them in the field on the back of my camera…but I’m often wrong. This is one such image. It was taken into the sunlight to backlight the Bison’s fur…but it was mostly a “G&G” shot (grab-and-go)…No premeditation, No tripod…Jump out of the car and “snap.” But after converting the image to sepia, I really loved it. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

02-Best2012 Monarch IA IMG_0065536 #2—I really concentrated on wide-angle wildlife this year and this may be my favorite. Crawling on my knees for hours on an Iowa prairie in September finally netted me this image. Read the whole story here. Northeast Iowa.

01-Best2012 Great Gray Owl peek-a-boo McDavitt Rd Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0058141 #1—Drumroll please…My personal favorite from 2012. Read the whole story of this bog encounter here. See the video here. I like the Great Gray Owl’s furtive glance around the trunk of a spruce…It lends an air of mystery. It is very “Brandenburg’s-wolf-peek-esque” if you’ve ever seen his famous photo. Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.

Gulls in my Face! How to make gulls look sexy!

I love a couple things that most people dislike…gulls (no such thing as a “seagull”) and dark overcast skies for photography. And today I wanted to combine these two to create an artistic, out-of-the ordinary image.
How did I get so close to the gulls? Remember, these were all shot with a 10mm-20mm lens…So you need your subject to be VERY close in order to appear somewhat large in the frame. The answer is stale bread! Once in a while I buy a large bag of unsaleable bread products from the local day-old-bakery. They call these “wildlife bags” and for about $5 you can have lots of fun. The disturbing part is that this particular loaf I was using today was about 6 months old (It had been in my car all summer) and there was not a speck of mold on it! I just shudder to think what we are putting in our bodies. But gulls have stomachs of steel.
The look I wanted was a dark and gloomy sky with the gulls lit in flight with a flash. But to get this “cold-warm” look you need a special technique. First you set your camera’s white balance to “tungsten,” this makes the dark gray sky a pleasing blue. But if you just used straight-up flash on the gulls they would also look bluish. So you need to “warm up” the light from the flash. To do this, I velcroed on two 1/2 CTO gels…These are orange gels that turn the light from your flash a very warm hue…It would be the equivalent of setting your camera’s white balance to “shade.” for example.
I then enticed the Ring-billed Gulls to very close range with scraps of bread, bagel and english muffin. Most would come within 3 feet on foot…Not quite close enough. So I tried throwing the scraps in the air…that worked much better. So I’d throw the bread in the air and then hold the camera at arm’s length and just keep shooting. Fresh batteries allowed the flash to recycle fairly quickly but even so I lost many images to the flash not firing. The result is that the gulls white feathers are neutral to slightly warm instead of bluish…A much nicer look.
Flash is great fun…but it is not often used creatively on wildlife. I had a blast with this and if you want to be further inspired, read Joe McNally’s “Hot Shoe Diaries,” “The Moment it Clicks” or any of his flash books.

Flash with CTO gel in place.

Yellowstone Abstract & Artistic

In Yellowstone, you could take wildlife portraits till the cows come home…or should I say, “until the Bison come home?” But I always try to think a bit out of the box in order to get some unique images. A few years ago, our buddy Chris Gibbs came with us to Yellowstone. Along one “boring” stretch of snow-covered road that traversed a recent forest fire, Chris rolled down his window and started shooting. Ryan and I looked at each other…What the heck was he shooting? The scene outside was anything but beautiful. But Chris was playing with a slow shutter speed, using the contrast of the black trees and white snow and the speed of the car to create very interesting abstracts. We all jumped in and tried the technique, and had a blast doing it. Next time the “light is bad” or it is harsh midday sun, think creatively and play around with exposures, flash, underexposure. The beauty of digital is that we aren’t losing money with every shot as in the “good old film days.”

Colorful stream rocks during a long exposure. Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f32 at 1/5 second on tripod.

Dawn Bison backlit by strong sun, his breath visible in the chilly air. Converted to sepia and contrast increased by use of Curves in Aperture. Canon 7D with Canon 400mm lens, f5.6 at 1/2000 second, underexposed by 2 stops.

A long exposure blurs the water and rocks to create a true abstract. Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f32 at 1/3 second on tripod.

An accidental photo of a bison with a 20mm lens from inches away…But I love it! The vignetted look, the texture of the Bison’s pelt, and the golden backlit hair in the lower left…It works for me. Of course, it will never sell, but we need to take photos for ourselves first and foremost.

Bridget says I take too many silhouettes…But she actually likes this one! I underexposed the scene by 3 full stops in the field then changed the white balance in Aperture so the sky went from blue to gold. The adult and calf are nicely separated and you can even see their individual legs. Canon 7D with Canon 500mm f4 lens and 1.4x teleconverter, f5.6 at 1/500 second on tripod.

Creativity isn’t limited to the field…Here I opened a stream rock image in Photoshop and applied the “poster edges” filter to create a crazy pattern.

I really liked this Raven image right out of the camera…EXCEPT the background color was blaaah! So I performed a tight crop, took out the background, replaced it with a solid color and then applied the “poster edges” filter in Photoshop. I love the accentuated pattern of the breast feathers.

Yellowstone Wildlife from Inches Away

Ryan Marshik and I recently returned from a mid October trip to Yellowstone National Park and so the next few posts will be images from this photo feast. As usual (this was our 6th trip to Yellowstone together), we left about 3pm from Duluth and drove straight through…It takes about 17 hours or so, and we cross the breadth of Minnesota and North Dakota and half of Montana. It’s a great time for us photo buddies to catch up, talk gear and technique, and listen to some photography podcasts.

On this trip I really wanted to try some “wide angle wildlife” shots, to get a more intimate portrait than is possible with a long telephoto lens. But I’m also including here a few shots taken at very close range with a longer lens that emphasize interesting details of wildlife subjects.
Stay tuned for more Yellowstone blog posts in the coming week.

Raven from behind. Minnesota ravens are incredibly shy and difficult to get close to. Not the case in Yellowstone! And the big revelation is that they are not really black!
The elk rut was waning but this young bull was still feeling his oats.
A Least Chipmunk from 4 inches away. I placed the camera on a favorite feeding rock and then remotely tripped the shutter while eating a bagel sandwich at a picnic table 50 feet away. 10mm lens at f16 1/500 second.
This curious guy actually put his nose print on my camera lens! The only way to get a shot like this with a tiny animal large in the frame and the background also relatively sharp is by using a very wide angle lens (in this case the Sigma 10-20mm set at 10mm) and triggering it remotely. 10mm lens at f16 1/400 second.
Bison own the roads in Yellowstone. Not a great shot but a very interesting image. Shot out the window with a 10mm lens…Inches from his nostrils. No, he did not get snot on my lens nor gore the rental car!

10 Reasons NOT to Take Fall Leaf Photos

This fall’s color has been one of the most spectacular in recent memory…It is not every year that the oaks, aspens and maples all peak at the same time, but this year they are. So what’s your excuse for not getting out and shooting? Here are some of the reasons I find myself hmmming and hawwwing and procrastinating and avoiding taking fall foliage photos.

1. I CAN’T FIND A GOOD COMPOSITION
SOLUTION: Make your own! I found this dewy Quaking Aspen leaf and very carefully placed it on a background of reversed maple leaves that I laid out. I love the contrast of the yellow with the magenta.

2. IT’S CLOUDY OUT
SOLUTION: No problem, cloudy and foggy days are the best for recording the saturated colors of fall. Even rainy days can be great. But remember to use a polarizer to reduce the sheen from wet leaves.

3. THE LEAVES HAVE ALREADY FALLEN
SOLUTION: So what?…The leaves can be just as pretty and colorful on the ground.

4. I WORK DURING THE DAY
SOLUTION: Get out early! Frost on fall leaves can be a dramatic element

5. TOO LATE…SNOW HAS ALREADY FALLEN
SOLUTION: Count your lucky stars because this is a rare event. Get out right away and find some colorful leaves dusted with snow to make a stunning shot.

6. IT’S JUST A JUMBLE OF LEAVES, TREES, AND COLOR OUT THERE…I CAN’T FIND A SUBJECT
SOLUTION: Isolate! Find a clump of particularly beautiful leaves…or an individual fallen leaf…or grab the telephoto lens to highlight one area of color.

7. THE LEAVES WON’T STAY STILL
SOLUTION: Use this to your advantage…If leaves are swirling in an eddy of a river or creek, just set your tripod up and shoot at a very slow shutter speed…Slower the better. The leaves will become a swirl of color but the rocks and shoreline will be sharp.

8. I CAN’T FIND ANY COLORFUL LEAVES
SOLUTION: Shoot brown leaves

9. I ONLY BROUGHT MY WIDE ANGLE LENS
SOLUTION: The best lens is the one you have with you…So use it! But you have to be careful with wide angle fall foliage shots that you don’t include too much of a gray sky. Here I intentionally eliminated the sky to focus on the variety of colors in a wooded meadow.

10. I ONLY BROUGHT MY TELEPHOTO LENS
SOLUTION: Perfect…Much easier to find good compositions with a medium telephoto (70-200mm) than with a wide angle lens, I believe. Head to a vantage point or lookout where you can isolate part of the scene like in this image from Oberg Mountain, Minnesota, Lake Superior North Shore.

There you have it…A bunch of reasons NOT to shoot this fall’s gorgeous leaves…And a bunch of solutions to these common excuses. Now let’s get out there and shoot like crazy before all the leaves are gone!

Rainy Day Pink Lemonade!

Well, sometimes the thing you intend to shoot just doesn’t pan out. This happened to me the other day on Duluth’s Park Point…rain and frequent and close lightning strikes sent me hustling back to the car. But like the saying goes, When you get lemons, you make lemonade, right? And in this case I made pink lemonade. The fuchsia colored flowers of the flowering crabs were at their peak so I decided to try something different and shoot them through the rain-streaked windshield of the Subaru. The result is a pleasing watercolor type look. An abstract study in green and pink…Pink Lemonade on a Rainy Day.

Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens handheld; Shot through rain-streaked windshield.