Posts from the ‘Fall colors’ Category

Awesomize your Autumn Wildlife Shots with Fall Color

Fall color can really make your wildlife images pop…But how do you incorporate colorful fall foliage into animal pics? It takes a bit of creative thinking because when most of us are out shooting, we are either focused on landscapes (and fall foliage) or concentrating on getting great wildlife portraits…but rarely are we thinking of combining both!

COLORFUL LEAVES AS BACKGROUND
This sounds simple but how often do you find a subject in a spot where colorful leaves create a nice backdrop? Not often! But when you do, take advantage of the situation and shoot like crazy!

Bald Eagle in Quaking Aspen [October; Superior National Forest, Minnesota]

Bald Eagle in Quaking Aspen [October; Superior National Forest, Minnesota]

I just happened to stumble on this Bald Eagle perched in an aspen while driving around northern Minnesota. My car served as a blind and I was able to get a few shots out the window. Remember to stick your lens as far out the window as possible to avoid the shimmer of heat from your car escaping to the cool fall air.

Sandhill Cranes staging at Crex Meadows  [October 2008, near Grantsburg, Wisconsin]

Sandhill Cranes staging at Crex Meadows [October 2008, near Grantsburg, Wisconsin]

Sandhill Cranes congregate at Wisconsin’s Crex Meadows in late fall. The rusty red oaks compliment the red crowns of the Sandhill Cranes.

Northern Goshawk juv Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_0049859 A juvenile Northern Goshawk swoops across a backdrop of yellow aspens atop Duluth, Minnesota’s Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve. I attracted it with the use of a plastic Great Horned Owl.

While calling for Moose, we inadvertently attracted the attention of this curious weasel [October; Superior National Forest, Cook County, MInnesota]

While calling for Moose, we inadvertantly attracted the attention of this curious weasel [October; Superior National Forest, Cook County, MInnesota]

A shallow depth-of-field turned the leaves in the background to pleasing blobs of color.

A near-adult Bald Eagle moves south over a northern Minnesota forest [September; Hawk Ridge, Duluth, Minnesota]

A near-adult Bald Eagle moves south over a northern Minnesota forest [September; Hawk Ridge, Duluth, Minnesota]

N Hawk Owl TamaracksTamaracks reach peak color in mid October. Their yellow needles will soon drop, but for now, they glow. Northern Hawk Owl in the Sax-Zim Bog of northern Minnesota.

Mule Deer buck yellow leaves Yellowstone National Park WY 770_7053Young Mule Deer buck and aspen leaves. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

REFLECT ON THIS
This may actually be the easiest way to incorporate fall colors into your wildlife shots. Find a small pond, river edge, or lake margin that is lined with colorful trees. The leaves will reflect on the surface of the water if you position yourself at the right angle.
Pied-billed Grebe fall color reflection Rock Pond UMD Duluth MN IMG_0067366

Canada Goose Galesburg IL IMG_0034699 Warm yellow leaves reflect off the surface of a Galesburg, Illinois pond. A low angle and perfect evening light make for a great Canada Goose portrait. The open-billed expression adds to the photo.

Canada Goose fall color reflection Rock Pond UMD Duluth MN IMG_0067214Rock Pond on the University of Minnesota Duluth campus is ringed by beautiful Sugar Maples whose red leaves make amazing reflections.

A pair of migrating Canada Geese float in a pond reflecting fall colors [September; Rock Pond, Duluth, Minnesota]

A pair of migrating Canada Geese float in a pond reflecting fall colors [September; Rock Pond, Duluth, Minnesota]

FRAME WITH LEAVES
It is often a tricky proposition to find a subject that you can frame with leaves, but if you do, it certainly makes a compelling image.

Though sometimes called "antelope," Pronghorns are not related to them [September; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming]

Though sometimes called “antelope,” Pronghorns are not related to them [September; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming]

MOTION BLURS WITH FALL COLOR
Get real creative and try some slow shutter speeds with your wildlife subjects and fall color.
Snow Goose blur yellow tree_9397Snow Geese take off from a roosting pond in New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Cottonwood leaves create the yellow backdrop.

Pine Siskins swirl in a winter feeding flock [September; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming]

Pine Siskins swirl in a winter feeding flock [September; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming]

A drake Mallard takes off [September; Rock Pond, UMD, Duluth, Minnesota]

A drake Mallard takes off [September; Rock Pond, UMD, Duluth, Minnesota]

Panning with the Mallard at a slow shutter speed made for an interesting image.

FOG FOR BUCOLIC FALL SCENES
Fog and mist can soften fall colors and create moody fall photos.

Trumpeter Swans Spring Lk Carlton Co MN IMG_0051024 Fog on Carlton County, Minnesota’s Spring Lake softens the scene, turning it into a watercolor-like photo.

Tamarack-ulous!

It is the time of year when almost all the deciduous trees are past peak and many have lost all their leaves. But there is one amazing tree that is just coming into its full glory…The Tamarack. This is our only deciduous coniferous tree. What? It means that though it has needles like spruces, fir, pine, they all drop off the tree every fall (deciduous)…But before they do, they turn an amazing yellow-gold, making the bogs blaze with color.

Tamarack Reflections Lima Mtn Road Cook Co MN SparkyStensaas 778_7861 (1)Sadly, this scene will never be repeated…These perfectly situated Tamaracks along the Lima Mountain Road in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest have all succumbed to the Eastern Larch Beetle.

FUN TAMARACK FACTS
1. The name “tamarack” comes from the Algonquin people of eastern Canada and means “wood used for snowshoes.” The Algonquins also gave us the name “moose.”
2. Also known as “larch” and “hackmatack”
3. Grows from Labrador to the Yukon and Alaska, south to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan east to Indiana, New York, Maryland. But the largest pure stands in the Lower 48 are in Minnesota.
4. Latin name is Larix laricina
5. Extremely cold tolerant! Can survive winter temps down to MINUS 85 F!
6. Also very rot resistant…In fact, when we built our house, our builder suggested Tamarack for the front porch. We had a local mill saw it up for us.
7. Eastern Larch Beetle (Dendroctonus simplex) is a native enemy of the Tamarack. Outbreaks in the Sax-Zim Bog of northern Minnesota have been quite severe in recent years. A bane to the trees, is a boon to woodpeckers, bringing in irruptions of Am. Three-toed Woodpeckers and Black-backed Woodpeckers who flake bark from the trunks to get to the juicy grubs beneath. These rarely seen birds also bring in throngs of birders to see the birds.

Northern Hawk Owl NHOW-SS (Friesens Test)Ryan Marshik and I found this Northern Hawk Owl on a early November foray to Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog. It was perfectly teed up on a Black Spruce with a background of slightly-past-prime Tamaracks. Ryan quickly and graciously loaned me his Canon 500mm f4 and 1.4 extender and we were able to get this shot out the window of the car.
[Canon 10D, Canon 500mm f4 lens w/1.4x tele-extender, f5.6 at 1/160 second at ISO 400 (taken in 2004)]

Tamarack Yellow Motion Blur Toivola Swamp Sax-Zim Bog MNA very windy day in the Toivola Swamp adjacent to the Sax-Zim Bog. I decided to interpret the Tamarack gold in a new way…Leave the shutter open for a longer exposure and let the wind do its thing. And the amazing thing is that I like the result!
[Taken in the “film days”…Can you believe it?! …Probably with a Nikon FM2]

Gray Jay in gold Tamarack Admiral Rd Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_8946Taken just a few days ago in the Sax-Zim Bog as the Tamaracks were approaching peak color. This curious Gray Jay came in to my squeaks. I like the fact that the Jay shares the starring role with the wispy yellow Tamarack foliage.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/250, ISO 400, Canon 420EX flash (without Better Beamer)]

Tamaracks McDavitt Rd Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_9306Tamaracks and a brooding sky, Oct 21, Sax-Zim Bog.
[Canon 7D and Tamron 60mm f2 lens]

Hairy Woodpecker in gold Tamarack Admiral Rd Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_8934A bit of yellow Tamarack foliage adds nice contrast to the primarily black-and-white Hairy Woodpecker. The red bar on the back of his head makes this Hairy a He and not a She. Sax-Zim Bog, MN.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens]

Ten Reasons NOT to take Fall Color Photos

Here in Northern Minnesota, this weekend is looking nasty…rain, strong winds, cold. But the leaves are starting to really turn. I thought it might be time to bring back this post from last fall.

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!

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.

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!

Swans in the Mist

Not as exotic as “Gorillas in the Mist,” this scene revealed itself much closer to home when rounding a corner on our “Drive-to-Daycare Wildlife Loop #3.” Birk and Bjorn were fairly non-plussed. Birk went back to playing Angry Birds on my iPhone after a verbal pat on his dad’s back, “Oh swans, nice spot daddy” (“spot” is a birder term for finding a good bird). But I loved the moody scene. And overcast days are when you want to photograph pure white swans as the contrast between the white birds and surroundings is reduced and there is much less chance of blowing out the whites.

Unlike 20 years ago, when a birder would assume that any spring or fall swans seen in northern Minnesota would be Tundra Swans (“Whistling Swans” back then), today we assume that they are Trumpeter Swans (if the flock is under a dozen birds or so). Back from the brink of extinction in the Lower 48, the Trumpeters owe their “thrival” (thriving survival…yes, I made the term up) to Carrol Henderson and the Minnesota DNR Nongame Wildlife division. Back in the early 1980s, Carrol traveled to Alaska where the species was hanging on, and brought back a dozen or so eggs. They were hatched and raised in the Hennepin County (Minneapolis) Parks. Finally in 1987 several two-year olds were released into the wild. Today the Trumpeters are thriving, with 300 nesting pairs in Minnesota and several thousand wintering on the Mississippi River near Monticello. They are also nesting in Wisconsin and now even reclaiming historical territory in Ontario and Manitoba.

It’s good to have you back, my trumpeting friends!

Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6, 1/250 second at f5.6, ISO 160, lens braced on car door frame.

One Year Ago Today: Snow on Leaves


I’d been waiting for this day for a long time…A fluffy white snowfall on red maple leaves at the peak of their color. It happened one year ago today…October 10, 2009. I think Duluth got 2 inches of snow…In the Nemadji Valley we maybe got one inch; But it was enough to create a strange juxtaposition of snow on the ground with colorful leaves on the trees.

This October 10th has been quite the opposite of one year ago; The peak of color is long over—the maples peaking nearly two weeks ago, and it was over 70 degrees today!

While perusing my natural history journal last week, I came upon last year’s October 10 entry about the snowfall. I remembered I had driven through Jay Cooke State Park (Carlton Co., MN) and into Douglas County, Wisconsin looking for images. I’d never really looked at them, so had fun editing them today. These are my two favorites (plus a shot of our house). The red Sugar Maple leaves were in Jay Cooke and the yellow Quaking Aspens were just outside of Oliver, Wisconsin.

Maple leaves: Canon 7D, Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 200mm, f9.5 at 1/90, ISO 400, tripod
Quaking Aspen: Canon 7D, Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 200mm, f9 at 1/250, ISO 400, handheld