Posts tagged ‘photography’

Theodore Roosevelt National Park—Wild Horses running Wild

On our way home from Yellowstone, Ryan and I stayed the night in Medora, North Dakota and spent the next morning shooting in Teddy Roosevelt National Park. It is a fantastic place for wildlife photography…and far less crowded than Yellowstone! Though it doesn’t have bears or Moose it does have Bison, Pronghorns, Coyote, Mule Deer and, in the North Unit, Elk and Bighorns. It also has two very photogenic species that Yellowstone lacks…Prairie Dogs and Wild Horses (also Rattlesnakes in summer!).
Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9339 copyThe band of wild horses and foals. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/500, tripod]

The morning dawned dismal and rainy but we weren’t about to pass up the amazing 25-mile?? wildlife auto loop. Coming around a bend, we actually saw a car parked along the road. We had to stop and see what was up. Off on a nearby hillside was what we thought was a researcher studying a band of wild horses. The horses then stared at us (or so we thought). A couple foals were in the herd too. We waited until she returned to the road and indeed she was researching the sex lives of the horses (basically). But she told us that she thought the horses had seen another band of horses. We went cross country to try and get some shots. After setting up on the same hillside we noticed the horses all switched their attention from us to something unseen to the east. Sure enough, there came into view another band of horses. The leader of the band near us got very animated and stiffened up. He then trotted over to the other band and the leader of that band came out to meet him.

They circled each other, posturing the whole while. The other male then kicked with both hind legs narrowly missing “our” male. Evidently our male “won” and the other band drifted off while he ran back towards us. It was a fantastic opportunity to get some panning, motion-blur shots.

Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9293Panning with running animals at a slow shutter speed is low percentage shooting, but sometimes you get lucky and get the head sharp but still show the motion in the legs. You need to choose a slow enough shutter speed to convey motion but not too slow so there is no chance of any part of the animal being sharp. The best shutter speed to start with would be 1/60 to 1/30 of a second. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f16 at 1/50, handheld]

Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9304Nothing is sharp in this shot (I wish the head was a tiny bit sharp) but I love the power and speed of this stallion as conveyed by the motion blur.[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f16 at 1/40, handheld]

Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9306[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f16 at 1/40, handheld]

Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9310Kicking stallion. I didn’t really like the color in this shot…Seemed to distract from the kicking horse. So I converted it to black and white but it was still lacking something for an image portraying such power and aggression. Then I played with the contrast and Voila! I really liked it. Aggression, strength, power, energy. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f16 at 1/50, handheld]

Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9339The same photo as the top photo. Do you like it better in color or black and white?

MORE ABOUT WILD HORSES IN THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK
[From official park website: “Feral horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park do not fall under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, but are managed by existing park regulations. For many years the National Park Service attempted to remove all the horses from the park. This policy was reversed in 1970 when the horse was recognized as part of the historical setting. The park now retains a herd of 70-110 animals so that visitors may experience the badlands scene as it appeared during the open range ranching era of Theodore Roosevelt. In order to maintain this population level, the horses are rounded up every few years, and surplus animals are sold at public auction. Today, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is one of the few areas in the West where free-roaming horses may be readily observed.

Wild horses have existed in the badlands of western North Dakota since the middle of the 19th century. While ranching near Medora in the 1880s, Theodore Roosevelt wrote:

In a great many–indeed, in most–localities there are wild horses to be found, which, although invariably of domestic descent, being either themselves runaways from some ranch or Indian outfit, or else claiming such for their sires and dams, yet are quite as wild as the antelope on whose domain they have intruded.
Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, cowboys in the Medora area often captured wild badlands horses for use as ranch or rodeo stock. Prior to the establishment of the park in 1947, local ranchers used this area to graze their livestock. A horse round-up held in 1954 removed 200 branded animals. Of the few small bands of horses that eluded capture, several were thought to be the descendants of horses that had run free in the badlands since at least the turn of the century.

Some of the horses in the park do bear a striking resemblance to the types of horses common in this area during the 19th century. As depicted in drawings and early photographs, local horses of that era were typically large-headed, short-backed, and a bit larger than the mustang of the southern Plains. They were often blue or red roans, many having “bald” (white) faces and patches of white on their sides. This color pattern, called an “apron,” may be familiar from the paintings of Frederic Remington and C.M. Russell, but is seldom seen in modern horses.

Wild horses typically range in small bands of 5-15 animals, consisting of a dominant stallion, his mares, and their offspring. Frequently a subdominant stallion will “run second” to the leader. Stallions herd their mares by extending their heads and necks low to the ground in a threatening gesture known as “snaking.” When a band is in flight, a dominant mare will take the lead with the stallion bringing up the rear. Young stallions roam together in “bachelor” groups, sometimes in proximity to a stallion harem.”

Top Ten Action Shots 2013

Action images are always one of the goals of a wildlife photographer. Nature is in constant motion, and capturing a frozen moment in time is always exciting. Here are my favorite action shots of 2013.
Blue-winged Teal Fond du Lac Bridge area Duluth MN IMG_9912Blue-winged Teal in flight. As you can see, even 1/1600 of a second didn’t entirely freeze this duck’s wings. But that’s okay. I think a bit of motion blur in the wings adds to the photo, making it a bit less static. Of course, this wouldn’t be acceptable for the head. Near the St. Louis River, Duluth, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/1600 second, ISO 200, handheld]

Trumpeter Swans 3 landing backlit Monticello MN IMG_0073480Backlit Trumpeter Swans coming in for a landing. If you are anywhere near Minneapolis, Minnesota, you’ve got to make a mid-winter pilgrimage to this tiny city park in Monticello. This stretch of the Mississippi River stays open and ice-free the entire winter due to the nuclear power plant upstream. And the swans love it! They also get a free hand out from one of the local residents. I like the backlit wings and blue shadows of this image. See the full story here.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/1250 second, ISO 250, handheld]

Sharp-tailed Grouse lek blind Kettle River Twp Carlton Co MN IMG_7856
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/1600 second, ISO 320, tripod from blind]

Sharp-tailed Grouse lek blind Kettle River Twp Carlton Co MN IMG_7840This is a shot that I’d dreamed of for quite a while…a Sharp-tailed Grouse dancing atop the snow in morning light. It happened this year (2013) on my first trip out to the DNR blind near the lek (dancing grounds). It was April 26th and there was 8 inches os snow still on the ground (We’d had 48 inches of snow in April alone!). It was cloudy on my drive out but the clouds cleared soon after I got there. Long enough to get my dream shot. Carlton County, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/1600 second, ISO 320, tripod from blind]

Killdeer CR201 Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_8053I like animal behavior shots. This is a pair of Killdeer mating soon after returning to the North Woods in late April. Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/1600 second, ISO 100, handheld]

Common Merganser flight St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_6969Common Merganser flying through a snowstorm in April. Duluth, Minnesota near the St. Louis River.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/640 second, ISO 160, tripod from blind]

Belted Kingfisher Kimmes-Tobin Wetlands Douglas Co WI IMG_5805I placed this perch in a marsh in hopes a Belted Kingfisher would use it…and within 10 minutes or so, one did! It even caught a fish from the perch. See the full story here.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/2000 second, ISO 320, tripod from blind]

Bald Eagle nr nest Kimmes-Tobin Wetlands Douglas Co WI IMG_7764Out on a spring walk, I evidently got too close to a Bald Eagle nest. This bird made several passes at me, giving its very squeaky alarm call. Douglas County, Wisconsin.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/2500 second, ISO 200, handheld]

American Kestrel male Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_7609A plastic owl festooned with feathers from a feather duster enticed this American Kestrel to come in for a closer look. The male of this small falcon species is rusty-red and blue, an attractive combo. Hawk Ridge, Duluth, Minnesota. See the full story here
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, Manual exposure f7.1 at 1/2000 second, ISO 500, handheld]

Northern Hawk Owl Kolu Ave Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0072702Northern Hawk Owl hovering. These owls of remote bogs from Minnesota to Alaska hunt during the daytime…A very convenient trait for the wildlife photographer! Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/2500 second, ISO 640, handheld]

Grand Slam of the Giant Silkworm Moths!

Last year I got the “Trifecta of Mega Moths” …Cecropia, Polyphemus and Luna; But this year I added the Promethea to get the GRAND SLAM!
All were photographed between my house and garage. My technique is simple…Leave the garage light on all night then go out in the morning and try (emphasize the word “try”) to move them gently to a more photogenic perch. You have to go out very early (5:30 to 6:30 am) before they warm up and fly off.

Cecropia moth Hyalophora cecropia Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_6573CECROPIA (Hyalophora cecropia) The genus is named after Cecrops I, the mythical first king of Athens, and it is certainly the KING of North American moths…It is one of the showiest and largest with a wingspan approaching 6 inches. Caterpillars are especially fond of maple leaves but also feed on tamarack, spruce, birch and cherry. Sparse population in the “wild” as there may only be a couple adults in a square mile of forest, BUT some residential populations can be quite dense. Males may FLY 20 MILES (!) over several nights, and mate with several females.

Cecropia moth Hyalophora cecropia Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_6580CECROPIA (Hyalophora cecropia)

Luna Moth Actias luna Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7524LUNA MOTH (Actias luna) Luna the Goddess, was the ancient Roman divine personification of the Moon. Caterpillars much prefer the Paper Birch leaves in the north woods. This is my best Luna photo in a long while…Unfortunately it is on the T-111 siding on my garage. When I tried to move it, it started its flopping-Arching defense and escaped.

Promethea moth Callosamia promethea Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7544PROMETHEA (Callosamia promethea)

Promethea moth Callosamia promethea Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7537PROMETHEA (Callosamia promethea) Prometheus, a Titan, culture hero, and trickster figure who is credited with the creation of man from clay, and who defies the gods and gifts humanity with fire” (Wikipedia). Adults live for a week and may fly 20 miles in that time period. This is a female but the darker male is day-flying and may mimic the unpalatable swallowtail butterfly. Caterpillars feed on black cherry, ash and perhaps, lilac.

Promethea moth Callosamia promethea Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7529PROMETHEA (Callosamia promethea)

Polyphemus moth Antheraea polyphemus Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7850POLYPHEMUS (Antheraea polyphemus) Polyphemus is the gigantic one-eyed son of Poseidon and Thoosa in Greek mythology, one of the Cyclopes. And a semi-appropriate name as this huge moth shows one striking “eye” on each hindwing. The thought is that bird predators will attach the false eyes on the hindwings and do little damage to the moth itself. Caterpillars feed on birch, maple, willow and oak.

Polyphemus moth Antheraea polyphemus Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7855 copyPOLYPHEMUS (Antheraea polyphemus)The “face” of a Polyphemus when viewed at close range…complete with eyebrows!

HOME MOTH PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS
1. Leave a garage/exterior house light on overnight (but don’t overdo it…leave the light off for a couple of nights between sessions, otherwise Gray Treefrogs, squirrels and birds will feast on your moths at dawn)
2. Go out early and see what the light brought in. Get outside between 5:30 and 6:30am before the moths warm up and start flying away.
3. Take “record” shots of moths perched on your garage or house siding, or porch. Then try to move them to better perches using native plants, trees. I slowly slip a flat piece of wood (about the size of a shim) under the moth until it clings to it. Then I move to my backdrop of choice and ease them onto that.
4. I have my flash and basic exposure set already…You can use a pop-up flash or hot-shoe flash, but you really should use some flash to make your subject pop.
5. I like to set a manual exposure that keeps my shutter at between 1/160 and 1/250 when using the pop-up flash (which synchs at 1/250 max). Sometimes, for larger moths, I can use my hot shoe flash set to Hi-speed synch to get higher shutter speeds. Remember, much of your shooting will be early in the morning and you may have to crank up the ISO to get these shutter speeds.
6. Now here is the part that has really improved my moth/insect shots..I switch the camera to live view and manual focus. Now when I see my favored composition in the viewfinder, I magnify the live view to 5x power. I now simply move my body/hands/camera in and out until the key part of the subject is razor-sharp in the live view viewfinder and click the shutter. I guarantee this technique will improve your moth and insect images!

[All photos taken with Canon 7D and Tamron f2 100mm macro lens (all images used manual focus). All handheld…Many taken at ISO 1600 or higher!]

Florida Part 2: Beach Life

Fort Myers Beach panorama SMALLFLORIDA. I wish I could post the full-size photo of this panorama combining 4 images in Photoshop…It is 45 inches long! …and very sharp. Taken during a brief appearance of the sun near sunset along Fort Myers Beach. Handheld with the Canon 400mm f5.6 lens.

American Oystercatcher stare Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3995 - Version 2
American Oystercatcher preening Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_4000 - Version 2
American Oystercatcher fluffing Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_4003 - Version 2The above images were just “G&G” images for me (“grab-and-go”)…I was walking the Estero Beach Lagoon when I saw these AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS lolling about. I didn’t put much effort into stalking them or even setting up my tripod because the light was FLAT and the only background was blah, colorless white water. Not a very interesting background. BUT when I got home and looked at these on the computer, I knew that they were my best photos of the trip. I really like the monochromatic water background…It is a nice contrast to the brown-black and orange of the oystercatcher. By the way, yes, oystercatchers do “catch” and eat oysters! (and many other bivalves including mussels and clams)

Frigatebirds 1 composite SMALLWhat a great name!…MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD. For me the name conjures up visions of the Caribbean and the tall ships that plied these waters centuries ago. An early naturalist likely noted that the birds often came to rest on the masts of these vessels far from any land and named them “frigate birds.” These are HUGE seabirds that effortlessly float in the sky, gliding on stiff Caribbean winds, wings that span nearly EIGHT FEET(!) firmly set. They can glide like this for HOURS, never once flapping their wings. You’ve probably seen them in some nature program before…They are the birds with the red air sacs on their throat that they inflate like a balloon during breeding and courtship. But on this trip I only managed a few flight silhouettes, distinctive as they are, under gray sky conditions. But I decided to get creative and combine 5 images of the same bird into one, making my own flock of five flying frigatebirds (say that 3-times fast!). A dramatic increase in contrast helped the final image pop.

Great Egret breeding face Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3838In the North Woods of Minnesota, we rarely get to see a Great Egret (found south in the state) and NEVER get to see them with their breeding plumage including their green facial skin. Snuck up on this guy at Estero Beach Lagoon.

Sandwich Tern flying Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3538SANDWICH TERNS always remind me of my birding friends Parker Backstrom and Don Kienholz. Back in the mid 80s they were birding the Duluth Port Terminal on a gray, rainy, foggy May day when they spotted a strange tern with a yellow-tipped bill. It was a very-far-from-home Sandwich Tern, and a first state record for Minnesota! Dirt common in Florida as they hunt (fish) the ocean shorelines for small fish, plunging beak-first into the water.

Least Tern flying Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3581LEAST TERN is the smallest and cutest tern in North America. I completely associate it with the Gulf Coast but amazingly, they also nest on braided, sandbar stretches of the Upper Missouri River in South Dakota (only an hour SW of the MN border), North Dakota and Montana.

Snowy Egret high key Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3824
Snowy Egret stalking beach Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3601SNOWY EGRET stalks critters along a busy Fort Myers beach. I didn’t think much of either of these photos UNTIL I made it a “HIGH-KEY” image, overexposing, and even blowing out completely the whites. I like the monochromatic effect and the contrasting black bill, legs and yellow feet.

Brown Pelican Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3636Who doesn’t love pelicans? And BROWN PELICANS are the native pelican in Florida. This adult was lazily flying along the beach, but would then suddenly plunge head-first into the surf and more often than not, come up with a fish in its pouch.

Common Ground-Dove Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3807COMMON GROUND-DOVES, like many of North America’s doves and pigeons, are taken for granted. But when you really study them, many have quite beautiful plumages, some with delicate scaling and subtle iridescence. This dove is native to the southern fringe of the U.S. from South Carolina to Florida to Texas, Arizona and S. California. When it flies, it reveals its stunning rusty red underwings.

Cicindela hamata lacerata Tiger Beetle Estero Beach Lagoon Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3863
Cicindela hamata lacerata Tiger Beetle Estero Beach Lagoon Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3866A lifer TIGER BEETLE! This beach tiger was a new one for me—Cicindela hamata lacerata. I love tiger beetles! Fast and furious, they pursue insect victims, pouncing on them in lightning fast attacks. And it really helps to be colored like the sand you hunt on.

Wilson's Plover Fort Myers Beach FLFunny story…WILSON’S PLOVER is a sand-colored shorebird restricted to the South Atlantic and Gulf Coast states, Virginia to Florida to Texas, BUT I’d just seen one the week before on Minnesota’s own version of an ocean beach—Duluth’s Park Point on Lake Superior. My friend Karl Bardon had found this lost wanderer, only Minnesota’s THIRD state record. Interestingly, I myself had found Wisconsin’s FIRST STATE RECORD of this species back in 2004(?) and just a few miles from here on Wisconsin Point. Anyway, good to see a Wilson’s in its native habitat for a change!

[All images taken with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens handheld]

Subzero Swans: Shooting with Sparky video

Trumpeter Swans 2 landing backlit sepia Monticello MN IMG_0073484

Trumpeter Swans 3 landing backlit Monticello MN IMG_0073480
Heading north from my parent’s home I decided to stop by Monticello, Minnesota to photograph Trumpeter Swans wintering on the Mississippi River. Tucked into a suburban neighborhood on a cul-de-sac is a tiny lot-sized city park. Hundreds of swans winter here. The attractions for the swans are the Mississippi kept open by the discharge of a nuclear power plant and cracked corn. Sheila the Swan Lady began feeding a handful of swans years ago…and word got around the swan world. Now over 1500 Trumpeters winter here! Sheila has passed away, but her husband carries on, scattering hundreds of pounds of corn each day. Please put a few bucks in the donation box at the park to help support this feeding project.

It was cold…zero degrees…and I was plenty early, 45 minutes before sunrise. While dancing around to keep my feet warm, I set up my heavy tripod and got to work. You must stay behind a split rail fence so you are forced to shoot down on the subjects. Not the best angle. Eye level almost always gives animal images more impact. But occasionally swans will fly in at eye level. As the morning progresses, there is behavior and birds everywhere…a swan battle here, wing-flapping there, a flock of Goldeneyes rocketing past, a Bald Eagle overhead, a lamentation of swans flying in (yes…lamentation!). It is hard to swing the tripod head around fast enough to catch all the action.

Trumpeter Swan battle Monticello MN IMG_0073397

As the sun rose the light turned the river steam a very nice gold, silhouetting swans and trees. Several small flocks were flying by. I set Shutter Priority to 1/60 of a second and panned at as they flew past. I’ve had great luck with this on previous trips. But today I preferred my 1/1000 of a second motion-stopping images…Swan feathers translucent and back lit against the blue river.

Trumpeter Swans 2 flying backlit Monticello MN IMG_0073469

Trumpeter Swans 3 landing backlit Monticello MN IMG_0073476

The noise…hundreds of Trumpeters trumpeting…has to be experienced to be believed. It is the highlight of any visit. And to me personally, the whole experience is unbelievable. I never would have believed this day would come. When I was in high school in the late 70s/early 80s, Trumpeter Swans were extirpated from Minnesota, which had not had a breeding pair since 1885. I remember seeing some captive Trumpeters at Elm Creek Park Reserve. Then the MN DNR and began a reintroduction program, bringing in eggs from South Dakota, Montana and Alaska. In 1987, 21 2-year old swans were released at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge in Becker County. Today, the Minnesota population is over 2400 swans. An amazing success story.

More and more swans arrived, flying in towards the feeding area. But by now the light was getting “hot” and their white sunlit feathers were blowing out. The histogram was clipped on the white side. Not good. I packed up the gear and just enjoyed the cacophony of trumpeting Trumpeter Swans before heading home. Like they say, or if they don’t say it somebody should, “Any day shooting is better than a day in the office.”

Tips for shooting swans
1. Get there early! White swans in sunlight equals difficult exposures. Feathers tend to blow out to detailless white. I would even suggest getting there 30 minutes before sunrise. Any “steam” on the water may light up to a beautiful yellow-orange when the sun first peeks over the horizon.
2. Choose a lens that will bring the action closer but leave enough breathing room around the bird so sudden wing-stretching or flapping or fights will not leave part of a wing out of the frame. A 400mm on a crop-sensor camera works well as would a 500mm on a full-frame camera. But even a 300mm lens can yield very nice images. I also like to use my 70-200mm for some “bird in landscape” shots.
3. To stop the action, set your camera to Shutter Priority 1/1000 of a second and your ISO to Auto (if you have this feature).
4. Experiment! Pan with swimming birds as well as flying birds…1/80 to 1/60 second work best. Try some fill flash. Zoom. Use a wide angle lens for an “animal in the landscape” shot.

Trumpeter Swans flying blur panning Monticello MN IMG_0073429

Resources:
Trumpeter Swans at Monticello, Minnesota: Hundreds of Trumpeters, Canada Geese and ducks winter along the Mississippi River in Monticello, Minnesota. A tiny city park buried in a suburban neighborhood is access to the swans. Visit http://www.MonticelloChamber.com for more info and a downloadable pdf brochure.

Trumpeter Swan checking on young one Monticello MN IMG_0073411

All photos taken with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens.
Flight shots taken at 1/1000 second on Shutter Priority with auto ISO

Mallard albino Monticello MN IMG_0073451Leucistic Mallard blends in well with the white adult Trumpeters and gray and white juveniles.

Wild West Landscapes October 2012

[**Just a reminder, landscapes look pathetically puny at 470 pixels wide, but by clicking on an image you can view it at a bit larger scale in a new window.]

Yellowstone is known for its wildlife, but it is also a fantastic place for landscape photography. Especially good because you can include the wildlife in your scenics for added interest and scale. Here are a few of my favorites from our recent mid October trip.

Ryan brought along a 9-stop neutral density (ND) filter, a high-quality screw in filter from B+W that allows long exposures even on sunny days. I threw it on my Sigma 10-20mm lens to create this 20 second exposure. When on the lens, it is impossible to autofocus, so you need to focus BEFORE putting on the filter. I love the smooth buttery flow of the water and the glow of the shaded rock wall. 10mm lens at f22 for 20 seconds (!) ISO 200.

We were following a bull elk across the landscape when we topped a rise and found this dramatic scene. I excitedly set up the tripod and then realized I’d left my 70-200mm lens in the car. So off I ran, hopping dozens of downed trees from the fires of 1988 still laying on the ground. When I returned the scene had changed…and not for the better. Still, I like this shot…It has a prehistoric Ice Age feel. Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 200mm.

We thought this cloudless morning would mean a drama-less dawn, but steam from the Firehole Geyser basin created this sunrise scene. Canon 70-200mm lens handheld braced on car door.

The shaded canyon of the Firehole River at dawn. The water, heated by geothermal features upriver, steams on cold mornings. The pre-dawn blue was emphasized in Aperture. Canon 70-200mm lens handheld.

Our trip coincided with clear night skies and a very late moonrise which enabled us to get great shots of the Milky Way. This one was taken straight up through the Ponderosa Pines, which were lit by just the glow of a campfire. Sigma 10-20mm lens at 10mm f4 for 30 seconds. ISO 800. On a tripod. Tungsten white balance.

Is this a landscape image OR a wildlife shot? Not sure really, but I like the peaceful feel of the grazing Bison along the Firehole River (Fountain Flat Drive). Canon 70-200mm lens at 122mm. f7.1 at 1/400 second on tripod.

These “skeleton trees” near the Firehole Lake Drive never seem to disappoint. We have shot here many times and the conditions always seem to be different. Blue cast emphasized in Aperture. Sigma 10-20mm lens at 14mm, f9 1/1000 second. Tungsten white balance.

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!

Iowa Prairie Monarchs…from 4 inches away!


I really have a passion for “wide angle wildlife”…which can be a challenge with critters…most of which would rather be a long ways away from us stinky, scary humans. And, of course, to get the bird, mammal, reptile or butterfly a respectable size in the frame, and not just an indistinguishable dot, you have to GET CLOSE!

So, on September 6th I found myself taking a detour off the highway near Lime Springs, Iowa to check out Hayden Prairie State Reserve. It is a 242 acre parcel of tallgrass prairie..and sadly the largest tract in the state outside of the Loess Hills. The prairie honors Ada Hayden, an Iowa farm girl who became one of the first woman botany professors in the country, receiving her PhD in 1918.

I had a few hours to shoot before sunset and I noticed many Monarchs feeding on the sunflowers and goldenrods. But getting close to the Monarchs was not easy…First I tried just walking up to nectaring Monarchs on the head-height sunflowers…but they didn’t appreciate that. Then I discovered a patch of goldenrods where the nectar must be especially good and abundant. The butterflies were a bit more tolerant here. And as anyone who’s shot a lot of wildlife knows, every individual has a different comfort zone. So I just kept trying to find a mellow Monarch.

The image I had in my head was getting the Monarch large in the frame, shooting into the sun so the sky was dark and the sun would be a starburst. Backlit subjects can make for tricky exposures. I knew I had to shoot at high-speed sync in order for the butterfly and sky to be in the same exposure range. I’d pre-set my camera on manual exposure to f22 at 1/1250 and my Canon flash was set to high-speed sync. Then I autofocused on my hand at 4 to 6 inches and then turned off the lens autofocus. The technique was to crawl as close as I could to the Monarch, then extend my arm with the camera and start shooting…keeping my finger on the shutter button as I reached out towards the butterfly. It was low percentage shooting but lots of fun. My knees paid the price though.

The photos here are images you could not get with a telephoto lens…Note the extreme depth of field in the shots.


Crawling through tallgrass prairie can be tough on the knees…and jeans!
The Monarchs were starting their migration south to Mexico’s Mariposa Monarca Biosphere Reserve where they would overwinter. As any school kid knows, this migration is one of the most amazing in the animal kingdom…A fragile butterfly flying several thousand miles south to the mountains of Central Mexico where this species has likely overwintered for thousands of years. Even more amazing may be the fact that it is a different generation of Monarchs that returns to the north each spring. You can actually track the Monarch’s southward flight on the internet. Check out Journey North’s Monarch Migration map here to check on their southward flight.
To get the “starburst” sun you need to be shooting at f16 or smaller aperture.

Baptisia leucantha Largeleaf Wild Indigo or White Wild Indigo, a unique tallgrass prairie plant. Note the crazy large seed pods.

[All photos taken with Canon 7D and Sigma 10-20mm lens (between 10mm and 16mm) at f22, ISO 400, 1/1250 second, Canon 420ex flash set to high-speed sync at -2EV]

Hummingbird Hijinx: How to get awesome hummer/native plant images

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Turk’s-cap Lily, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota (i.e. my “backyard”)

The whole family has had a blast watching the Ruby-throated Hummingbird antics at our backyard feeder this summer. We’ve had up to 4 around the feeder at once. Though there are six feeding holes in the dispenser, they seem unable to feed peaceably next to each other. Fights are non-stop. For a while we had the “bully,” a male who sat like a king on his throne on the hanging bracket and chased away any nearby hummer…even when he wasn’t interested in feeding. The last few summers we’ve had the feeder out by the garden, but moving it to the “backyard” was the best move we could have made. Our large picture windows allowed great viewing and also helped remind us when the sugar-water mix was low or out. We used to forget about it when it was by the garden and let it run dry much to the hummers chagrin.

Here is an example of a flash image that I don’t like as much as the non-flash image below. (Liatris bloom)
And this is why you keep your finger on the shutter even after your flash fires. Sometimes you like the non-flash image! Though only shot at a relatively slow 1/250 of a second, the hummer’s head is sharp, which proves that though hovering with wings beating at 55-70 times per second, their head is absolutely still. Amazing! This might be my favorite from “the summer of the hummer.”

My first goal was to get some photos of Ruby-throats feeding on native flowers…A very difficult shot in the wild. Why is this type of image tough to capture? Because in the wild, you can’t control the situation. If you plant yourself near some highly desirable hummingbird flowers (Liatris, Monarda, Milkweed, etc) you never know when one might show up, and then it will be cautious of that weird large human with the “bazooka” pointing at it. On the other hand, if you stumble upon a feeding hummer, it is highly unlikely that you’ll have time to focus, position the flash, get the correct exposure and fire off a shot before the hummer moves on, as they normally quickly move from flower to flower.

plampThe native plant/clamp hummingbird set up.
A female comes in to an irresistable Morning-Glory bloom.
Here’s where the hummer’s long bill and tongue really come in handy; deep corolla flowers like Morning-Glory “hide” their nectar deep inside.

NOW, HOW TO DO IT (FOR ALL YOU FELLOW PHOTO NERDS!)
To get clean hummingbird images, you need to control the situation. First I gathered a native and photogenic flower and put it in water so it wouldn’t wilt. I then set up my camera on a tripod about 25 feet from the feeder. You have to judge the distance for yourself and what lens you are using, but you want enough room surrounding the flower to allow for the body of the hummer. You don’t want to be so tight that you clip part of the bird. Err on the side of too much space around the flower as you can always crop later. I attached my flash and to that attached a Better Beamer (a flash attachment that uses a fresnel lens to concentrate the beam of your flash so it projects further).

Now, I took the native flower and attached it to the bracket that the feeder was hanging on. I used a regular clamp this time but often use the “plamp” (plant clamp) from Wimberley to do this. One end has a beefy clamp that can attach to tree branches, a tripod leg, or in this case, the hanging bracket. You can then twist and bend the plamp into any position you need. The flower end of the plamp has a swiveling low tension clamp so you can fine tune the flower’s position.

Quickly test your set up. Position your tripod so that you will be shooting exactly perpendicular to the feeding hummingbird (if this is the shot you want). This is possible with Morning-Glory but not with Liatris where they can feed on all sides of the flower. Also look for the best background for your images. You don’t want distracting branches, blown out sky, ugly browns in your background. This is a VERY important step that can make or break a photo. Since I am in a very wooded spot, I am especially worried about “hot” branches, branches lit up by the sun that cause very distracting light lines,blobs in the final photo. What I do look for are nicely lit, even green foliage that I know will blur into a smooth green background.

I pre-focus on the spot where I want the hummingbird and then turn off the auto focus on the lens. This way I don’t have to be looking through the camera when I’m shooting. I just watch and press the shutter when I think the hummer is in position. Now quickly fire off a few test shots. Exposure is always a compromise between shutter speed and aperture. You want a relatively shallow depth-of-field (DOF) to get out-of-focus backgrounds BUT you also want enough DOF so both hummer and flower are in focus. A delicate balancing act for sure. Most are shot at f5.6 to f6.3. For the majority of these images I used high-speed sync for my flash, shooting at 1/1000 of a second (all but the Liatris images). But I don’t think I’d do this again. I like some blur in my hummingbird wings…It adds some drama, reality, motion into the image…And even 1/1000 doesn’t come close to freezing them…And high-speed sync seems to take more effort from your flash so it doesn’t recycle as quickly as when shooting at its regular 1/250 sync speed.

The final key to this operation is to cover the hummingbird feeder completely with a towel. You can also remove the feeder if you like but I found this just an extra unnecessary step. Now plant yourself next to your camera and get ready…finger on the shutter button. Because if you have an active feeding station it won’t take long for the first hummer to come zinging in. He/she will seem confused at first, trying to get at the covered feeder, but then it will see the showy flower you provided conveniently at hummer-head height, and think to itself, “Why not? It’s here, it has nectar, might as well try it” and that is when you start firing off shots as fast as your flash will recycle. But actually I just keep shooting because even non-flash images in a sequence can be beautiful.

This set-up really works well on established hummingbird feeders…but only for a few minutes…until all the local hummers have been fooled and tried your flower and used up the nectar. So I immediately take down the flower and uncover the feeder after my photo session…Usually less than half an hour. You don’t want to frustrate your guests too much so they go over to your neighbor’s feeder!

My big failure for the summer was NEVER getting a male to feed on “my flower”…I think all the images here would be enhanced with the male’s iridescent throat feathers shining like a ruby in the sunlight/flash burst. Oh well, there’s always next summer!

**[All images take with Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens and 430EX flash with Better Beamer attached. Tripod. Most at f5.6 or 6.3 at ISO 200 to 400, 1/250 to 1/1000]

My free Owls eBook for iPad/iPhone (and coffee-table book)

Bog Hunters is a gorgeous (if I do say so myself!) 40 page 12″x12″ coffee-table book that I made for a fundraiser for my non-profit Friends of Sax-Zim Bog (www.saxzim.org).

It is simply compelling photos of the BIG THREE northern owl species…Boreal Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, and Great Gray Owl (Great Grey Owl for all my European friends). I also list locations of where the image was taken. There is also a spread of “bog neighbors.” This is not a how-to book, nor is it a natural history guide…just “perdy” pictures.

And now it is available for FREE download for those with iBooks on their iPad or iPhone.
Go to this link to download it:

FREE BOG HUNTERS EBOOK FOR IPAD/IPHONE

[WARNING: It took me several tries to download it to Bridget’s original/1st generation iPad1]

A large format print version…hardcover with lustre paper…is available as well. The price is a daunting $86.13 (shipping included) BUT I am only charging what Blurb.com is charging me to print a single copy. Here is a link:

CHECK OUT (OR PURCHASE) COFFEE-TABLE VERSION OF BOG HUNTERS

Here are some LOW-RES page spreads

BOG HUNTERS pg 14-15
Bog Hunters pg 16-17
Bog Hunters pg 24-25