Posts from the ‘Mammals’ Category

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.

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!

Timber Wolf eating deer video

The trip to daycare is never dull…okay, most of the time it’s pretty dull. Birk and Bjorn stay pretty quiet as long as I have the radio tuned to WNCB Christian hit radio and keep tossing fishy crackers, granola bar bits, or whatever edible thing I find in the Subaru’s crevices into the back seat. But today, we didn’t get more than a mile from home when I saw a mammal in a hayfield. It was a long ways out, but at first glance I thought it was a Coyote. But it looked too bulky.


I had taken Bridget’s car this morning and so I didn’t have my camera along (Rule #1 of wildlife photography: ALWAYS have your camera in your car!). Fortunately Bridget did have her binoculars under the car seat and I was able to get a good look at the mystery animal. I put them up to my eyes and found myself staring into the distinctive face of a Timber Wolf! So I told the boys to “hang on!” and back we raced to the house. I nabbed my camera and tripod and sped back.

The wolf wasn’t there! I scanned the field cursing my lack of preparation when I spotted him, closer to the road now. He was laying down and gnawing on a deer carcass. I imagine he was able to kill the deer last night and just lingered on feasting until morning (it was past 8:30 am by now). I was filming in plain view but he gave me few glances. Wolves can only be confused with Coyotes under the worst conditions or at very long distance. Wolves are much bulkier, longer-legged, and lope with a loose-jointed gait. Their head is blockier and they often show white rings around the eyes. Wolves also lack the extensive red of some Coyotes and may be very white or very black (Coyotes don’t show this pelage variation).

I walked another 50 feet closer. He seemed undaunted but finally got up and without effort snapped a deer leg off to take with him (the original “take out” meal). He loped across the field and stopped near the tree line to take one last look at the man who interrupted his meal.

Back at the car, the troops were doing fine after about 20 minutes left to entertain themselves (I was always within sight of the car). I managed to find a bag with some mini rice cakes with chocolate drizzle, and these served as a fine treat for a very patient 3-year old and very tolerant 17-month old.

Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 and stacked 2x and 1.4x teleconverters, tripod.
The use of 2 teleconverters is not recommended for still photography except in occasions where it’s better to have a record photo rather than no photo at all. You lose quite a bit of sharpness and contrast. You can get away with it more easily in video though, where your filming at 1/60 second.]
[Photo is a single frame plucked from the video (1920x1080pixels).]

Urban Youths

Coming home from work today I saw a small group of gawkers gazing up into a large Cottonwood tree. Now I was in the middle of “suburban” Superior, Wisconsin (a town of 30,000 folks). So being a gawker myself, I decided to pull over and see what was happening. There wouldn’t be this much interest in a cat up a tree, I thought to myself. And sure enough, it was a spectacle much better than a crying kitty, it was a family of Black Bears, a momma and two cubs. According to the homeowners, the bears had been up there all day. And they seemed like they’d been up there all day; Bear poop littered the sidewalk along with branches and leaves; And they seemed bored. One cub was chewing on a leafy branch as if it was a tasty morsel. Folks came and left. It was a carnival mood. People were having fun. Camera phones were held up high to snap a memory of the bears in the trees.