10 for 2017

10 for 2017

In 2017 I spent much of my “outdoor time” exploring Washington, our new state since mid 2016.  Most of my images from this year were clustered around a few species: bald eagles, short-eared owls, great horned owls, and jaguars.  Landscape efforts were focused mainly on Mt. Rainier.  Our “big” trip for the year was to the Pantanal in Brazil where we had great luck in seeing and photographing jaguars, as well as five types of indigenous king fishers.  These may not be my best shots from the last 12 months, but they are my favorites for a variety of reasons that I will comment on below.   2018 here we come!!

Click on an image to see it larger (highly recommended).  🙂

In no particular order:

#1 Hunting Jaguar

Jaguar (6748)

Seeing a jaguar in the wild was phenomenal.  And I was pleasantly surprised with how many good images I was able to capture of this amazing cat.

 

 

 

 

 

#2 Theft by Eagle

Bald Eagle (3425)

During the year I visited two areas where bald eagles congregated to feast on exposed fish.  In this scene the eagle is about to steal a bullhead fish that is just in front of the Great Blue Heron.  I have dozens of images of eagles to process from the year.

 

 

 

 

#3 Barred Owl

Barred Owl (9133)

I have seen barred owls several times over the years without much luck in getting a worthwhile image.  And then this happened in a small park in Seattle!

 

 

 

 

 

 

#4 Pygmy Kingfisher

Pygmy Kingfisher

We spotted this little jewel while in the Pantanal in Brazil.  I like this little guy because he reminds of this Malachite Kingfisher shot, that is also one my favorites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#5  Mt. Rainier Meadow

Wildflowers (2249)

On of my first decent images of the wondrous wildflower displays that one can find near Mt. Rainier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#6.  Reflection Lake

Reflection Lake (2114)

And my first decent image of Mt Rainier at Reflection Lake with a nice dash of color from wildflowers.  A twofer!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#7 Cougar Rock

Cougar Rock (0050)

A lovely sunset vantage point near Mt. Rainier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#8 Mt. Rainier Fall

Rainier Color (3331)

An autumn scene near Mt. Rainier.  In Vermont the fall is all about looking up into the trees to see the display.  Here near Mt. Rainier it is all about looking down as Huckleberry and Larch provide much of the color.

 

 

 

 

 

 

#9  Goose Family

Canada Goose (3657)

Last year an image of a robin was a surprise entry in the top ten list.  This year it is the Canada Goose.  Usually not one of my favorite creatures, as explained here, but I love this image.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#10  Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl (1917)

I prefer images of owls in flight but I can’t resist the grumpy face and devil horns of this short-eared owl.

Whoa, That’s Deep…

Shot of the Month – November 2017

Bison, Yellowstone NP (5710)One of the great challenges of photography is that our images are forever trapped in a two dimensional plane.  Alas, this often renders our images a poor representation of our richly three dimensional world and many images can look flat and, well, boring.  While we can’t overcome the physical realities of this space-time conundrum, we can use some nifty composition techniques to create the appearance of depth in our photographs.

For example, I have dozens of photographs of bison — most of which are pretty mundane — a large brown creature not doing very much.  But look at this image — wow, I love how my eye is drawn in.  There are so many layers that the image becomes much closer to giving a sense of our 3D world.  With this image we don’t just observe, but we are actually pulled in and explore the space.

How did we get so much depth in this shot?  Let’s break the image up into different zones as shown in the image to the lower right and see how they build depth into the scene.

Depth of Field

By using a wide aperture on my lens the resulting shallow depth field leaves only the bison in sharp focus. Our eyes are naturally drawn to elements that are in sharp focus.   In this image the bison really pops compared to the grasses in front and behind her, and provides a sense of depth. (Zone 3)  For the basics on understanding depth of field, click here.

Foreground

By including a visual element in the foreground of the image one can add depth.  In this image the out-of-focus green grass provides that first layer to the image. (Zone 1)

LayeringCreating Depth

Images with the greatest amount of perceived depth will include elements in the foreground, middle ground, and background.  In this image we have the green grass as foreground, the bison in middle ground, and the out of focus, but visible bushes of different color, in the background.  Zone 1 is out of focus and green.  Zone 2 is still out of focus but now a different color.  With zone 3 the bison’s is in sharp focus compared to all the other zones, and its rich brown color also provides a clear distinction.  The color transition of zone 4 from front to back and the verticality of the brown plants in the rear of this zone lead the eye back away from the bison to the empty plain and colored bushes in zone 5.

Overlapping Elements

By having elements in different layers partially block elements behind it one creates the impression of depth.   The green grass in the foreground is the first barrier to entry and then we have that yellow grass just before the bison that partially obscures the massive beast.  It doesn’t seem like much, but that little bit of yellow grass in front of the bison does a lot to help add a sense of depth to the image. (Zone 2)

Shoot in Portrait

Shooting in portrait helps encourage seeing depth.  How so?  Well, look straight ahead and then move your head from side to side.  Your eyes will naturally fall on objects which are about the same distance away.  But if you move your head up and down, now your eyes will focus on objects at varying distance from very near to very far away.  Shooting in portrait recreates that dynamic and can help you to create more depth in your image. (source)

These are just a few of the techniques one can use to create images that people will want to reach out and touch because they seem so real.

Photographs often act like a mirror, providing a two dimensional reflection of the world.  With a bit of vision and technique we can transcend these flat worlds much as Alice did when she walked through her looking glass into a fantastical world of adventure.  Try some of the these techniques to get beyond photo to portal and transform your photographic reflection into a full bodied world rich in layers and depth that the viewer will want to leap into and explore.

 

Here is a very good article with great examples on how you can work a scene to infuse more depth.  And here is an article with more techniques that you can use to create depth.

 

Until next month….m

 

 

Nikon D4S, Nikon 200-400mm (@400mm) f/4.8, 1/1000 s, ISO 1000,

At the Height of Color

Shot of the Month – October 2017

Lupine Meadow, Mt. Rainier (1365)If you love color, check your calendar and your compass as it is likely that Mother Nature is putting on a glorious show somewhere near you.  In the northeast of the US the best time is in the autumn with the fall foliage.  Here in Washington state there is a lovely explosion of color in the meadows near Mount Rainier each summer.  How good is the display?  Well, Bob Gibbons, in his book, “Wildflower Wonders: The 50 Best Wildflower Sites in the World” lists Mt. Rainier as the #1 location to visit!

The best to time to see the show?  Well, Mother Nature is an artist and is not fond of strict schedules and the like.  She creates as the mood suits her.  This mountain park is divided into three zones by altitude.  Dense forests cover the low to mid elevations of the park from 2,000 to 4,500 feet.  The cool, shady conditions found here suite wildflower species that won’t be found higher up.  These flowers tend to bloom earlier in the summer.  Next we have have the subalpine zone from 4,500 to 6,500 feet.  The subalpine zone often has the most impressive wildflower displays because the growing season is so short here.  Snow can linger in the subalpine meadows into June and even July — so the flowers need to burst out as quickly as they can before the snows return.  Climbing higher is the alpine zone from 6,500 feet to the summit of the mountain.  There are a few hearty flowers in this zone but it not where you want to be for the most color. (source)

The “peak” bloom for subalpine wildflowers is heavily dependent on weather and precipitation patterns.  Typically, most flowers will be blooming by mid-July and by early August the fields can be bursting with color.  But some years the peak happens in late June.  Also, climate change is also starting to impact the timing and seems to be shifting the bloom to earlier in the summer.  So far I have found the 1st or 2nd week of August to be the most colorful.

What will you see?  Mt. Rainier has hundreds of species of wildflowers — a cornucopia of blues, purples, oranges, reds,Wildflowers, Mt. Rainier (1634) whites, greens, pinks and on and on.  In this quiet, peaceful sunrise image above we look over a long sloping meadow dominated by sub-alpine lupines (purple) that leads to a snow covered Mt. Rainier off in the distance.   There are also dashes of red (Scarlet Paintbrush) and pink (Pink Mountain Heather).   Come on a different day, at different time of day, on a different trail and you can see a completely different color palette.  Here to the right is a rambunctious burst of afternoon color dominated by yellows (Broadleaf Arnica and Bracted Lousewort)) and reds (Scarlet Paint Brush) amongst others.

The canvas literally changes by the hour.

If you do dig your hiking boots out of the closet to take in a mountainside color exhibition do take great care.  Mountain willdflowrs are exceptionally fragile.  Each step you take off trail can crush 20 plants.  Even if a plant survives the weight of your footstep its growth can be stunted for years!!  Stay off the artwork!!

A few resources:

Here is a good article on planning a trip to Mt. Rainier to see wildflowers.

A nice collection of hikes on Mt. Rainier to see wildflowers.

A handy wildflower guide of Mt. Rainier.

 

Until next month….m

 

Nikon D4S, Nikkor 17-35mm (@17mm), f/16, 1/10 sec, ISO 200, EV -0.666

 

 

Great Horned Owl

Shot of the Month – September 2017

Great Horned Owl (0854)Despite all my early morning gallivanting in the woods over the years I had never seen a Great Horned Owl (GHO).  I find this even more astounding having recently learned that the GHO is THE most common owl in America.  If you live in North America then there is probably a Great Horned Owl family living in a tree not far from your house.  These owls are incredibly adaptable and can live just about anywhere and can be found from the Arctic to South America.

The GHO is a big bird – it is the second heaviest owl in North America and as such is a fierce predator and can take prey much larger than itself.  These owls normally begin nesting weeks or even months before other raptors – here in Washington State GHO chicks typically appear in February!  Keeping eggs warm during the winter is very difficult and challenging.  Why take such a risk and not just wait till later in the spring like most birds?  Well, given the large size of the species, the chicks need more time to grow and develop into young adults.  Also, young GHO’s must master complex hunting maneuvers.  By hatching early in the spring they maximize the time available to practice flying and improve their hunting skills while the weather is mild and prey is abundant (source).

GHOs typically nest in trees such as cottonwood, juniper, beech, pine, and others.  They usually adopt a nest that was abandoned by another large bird, but they also use cavities in live trees, dead snags, deserted buildings, cliff ledges, and human-made platforms.

Fun fact: As a rule, no owl species builds its own nests.  I didn’t know that, either. (source)

This year I went from never seeing a GHO owl to having the good fortune of finding not one, but two GHO nests.Great Horned Owl (7420)  In Nisqually NWR (an hour south of Seattle) I found an owl family with three chicks.  As you can see, in their youth they are adorable fluff balls.  The Nisqually family was raised in a cavity in the tree though from time to time the chicks would come out and stand on this fork in the trunk and give us a view.  Here to the right you can see one of the rare moments where all three chicks can be seen at once.

Great Horned Owl (3155)In the Skagit Wildlife Area (about an hour north of Seattle) I  found this family on the left with two chicks.

Despite the wide distribution of these wonderful owls, we rarely see these denizens of the night.  Many people do hear their classic owl Hoots either early in the morning or at night.

If you are fortunate enough to find a GHO nest do take care.  GHO adults, monogamous for life, are dedicated parents and both male and female will stand guard over the chicks. The male typically roosts nearby, out of sight, but from a location where he can watch over the nest.  The female alone incubates the eggs  while the male will go off to hunt and bring food back for his mate.  GHOs will defend their nest with great vigor and they have been known to attack humans that wander too close to a nest.

You’ve been warned…

 

Great Horned Owl Range (Source)

 

 

Until next month

 

 

Nikon D500, Nikon 600 mm f/4, 1/500 sec, ISO 2200, +2 EV

 

 

 

 

Goose, Goose, Yawn!

Shot of the Month – August 2017

Canada Goose - 3657

To be honest, I am not big fan of Canada Geese.  As a photographer I am drawn to capturing species that are elusive and rarely seen.  This ubiquitous waterfowl seems to be EVERYWHERE which, unfairly or not, bores me.  Also, visually, I don’t find them all that interesting.  Black and white with a side of Bleh.

On many an occasion I have been in the field and detected movement and quickly readied my camera.  But once I saw those common features, a quick sigh would follow, “Just a Goose,” and a feeling of chagrin at the false hope of something special.

They are my avian Rodney Dangerfield  — they get no respect.  (For the uninitiated, Rodney Dangerfield was a comedian that made a very successful career providing numerous examples of how no one respected him: “When I was born, the doctor came out to the waiting room and said to my father, ‘I’m very sorry.  We did everything we could but he pulled through.’ ”   Here is a small sample.  Rodney is also famous for his roles in Caddyshack, EasyMoney, and Back to School).

But I digress.

The point is, I never imagined that I would post a Shot of the Month featuring a Canada Goose.

But then this lovely little scene happened.  Usually it almost impossible to properly expose a Canada Goose due to the strong contrast between their black and white features.  On this cloudy day the light was soft and and allowed the details of the feathers to come out.  And then we have that adorable little fluff ball of a chick.  Can’t argue with that.  And I like the family moment as the ever watchful parents guard over their little one.  The bend of the neck really adds something.  I love the collection of plants in the front and then the layers of out of focus colors in the background.  The purple adds a little zip to the composition.

And voila, put all the different elements together and we get a very pleasing image.

Canada Geese are native to the arctic and temperate regions of North America, though they will sometime migrate to parts of northern Europe.  They have also been introduced to the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, and the Falkland Islands. As to WHY they would do that, I have no idea.

Normally these geese will fly south for the winter; as a child I remember seeing the large V-shaped formation of birds flying overhead — a clear sign that winter could not be far away.

But with the changing climate, the nature of human settlements, and farming patterns, many Canada Geese are beginning to shorten the distance they fly or, increasingly, becoming permanent residents of parks, golf courses, and suburban sub-developments.  Changes in farming practices leave more waste grain available for the geese making it easier to stay put.  Also the proliferation of lawns and grassy fields are ideal habitats for Canada Geese — grass is part of their diet so their buffet has grown in size, and the manicured lawns are attractive because they provide a wide, unobstructed view of potential predators.  As a result these birds are especially abundant in parks, airports, golf courses and other areas with expansive lawns.

Canada geese were not always so numerous.  In the early 1900s they were almost pushed to extinction due to over-hunting and loss of habitat.  Tougher hunting policies and other programs helped stem the tide,  and the bird’s ability to adapt to the nature of human settlements has allowed the Canada Goose to not only thrive but in some areas, become a pest. For example, just fifty geese can produce about 2.5 tons of poop in a year.  A flock of Canada Geese can turn your local park into a very icky slip and slide.  We now have about six million Canada Geese in the US.  Dat’s alotta poop.

Because of the large size of Canada Geese, they are a major concern at airports because they can cause fatal crashes when they strike an aircraft’s engine.  Remember the “Miracle on the Hudson” when a US Airways plane that took off from Laguardia Airport in New York in 2009 and had to ditch in the Hudson River?  As the plane took off it collided with a flock of  Canada Geese.  Luckily Captain Sullenberger (Sulley) managed to execute a perfect “water landing.”

So, I am still rather ambivalent about the world’s largest goose, though I do have to admire its resilience — back from the precipice to pest in just a hundred years.  Uh, well done!?

 

Until next month…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nikon D4S, Nikon 600mm, f/11, 1/200 s, 1.4x TC, ISO 800, EV +0.5