Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Last Leaf of Autumn (With apologies to Georgia O'Keeffe.)

I almost started too late.  In fact, I did start too late.  I don't actually look for the last leaf, only a leaf in isolation that could, for all intents and purposes, be the last leaf of Autumn.  There were others that I had "focused" on when I noticed this burned out leaf.

What prompts us to film this, but not that?  What attracts our attention to a particular subject - and I'm not talking leaves in general, but this particular leaf?  The answer to that is probably more philosophical than technical in nature.  Anyway, I didn't give too much thought to the actual filming of it and it wasn't until later while reviewing all the leaf images that I really became attracted to this image.

Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) should also be applied to photography.  Usually the simpler you can make a composition, the more compelling it will be.  That is certainly part of the attraction of Georgia O'Keeffe's artwork.  And that is what I like about this particular leaf.  It has simple flowing lines that transform it into a work of art while the highlights on the branch are so blown out that it also simplifies this detail.  One might almost look for brushstrokes thinking it a painting and not a photograph.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Horned Grebe II

Here is another photo of a horned grebe showing the unusual lobed toes (instead of webbed feet) used for steering and proplusion underwater.  How would you like to try to scratch with a set of those?  Like loons, their legs are set far back on their body which makes them excellent swimmers, but poor walkers. In fact, they build nests that float, avoiding land altogether.  Their chicks are precocious, meaning they can swim and dive right from birth.  Once the last egg hatches, they abandon the nest and babies can be seen hitching a ride on the parent's back to stay safe and warm.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Horned Grebe

This small waterbird is a horned grebe, recently arrived from the far north to spend the winter on the bay.  They are diving birds, catching mainly small fish in their pointed bills and eating them while still underwater.  This is non-breeding plumage of both the male and female.  Notice how it has almost no visible tail.  In breeding plumage, they look like a completely different species. The bird could hear the shutter clicking, but I wasn't moving and it has it's head cocked trying to figure out what was making that sound.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Goose Hunting

This is probably my favorite boating photo I have taken.  It looks like it could be a picture out of a boating ad.  The passenger is kicked back, enjoying the ride and the captain has an experienced ear listening to the purr of his engine.  It is also one of my most successful panning shots.  The main subject is tack sharp while the background is nicely blurred.  It is more evident if you enlarge the photo.   To successfully pan, there are a few things to keep in mind.  Pick a target that you are going to keep in exactly the same spot all the way through the panning action - for example the passengers hand.  Start panning before you press the shutter and continue panning until after the shutter reopens.  The right shutter speed is an educated guess based on a multitude of factors such as aperture, speed of the subject, available light, lens being used, the direction of action - and more.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The End of Autumn II

Here is another photo from the Patuxent taken at sunrise about a week ago.  If you saw this same "layered" look in a painting, you might think it was not based on reality, but look how orderly the zones progress into the background.  First are the marsh grasses, then a line of smaller trees tolerant to a wetter environment, followed by a line of evergreens.  Behind those is a line of tall trees with a good deal of foliage still present giving way to a hillside of trees that have lost their leaves.  And, again, a sycamore adds a point of interest with it's white branches and trunks while the reds and greens compliment each other so nicely.  It doesn't get much better than this.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Yellow Crowned Night-Heron

I mentioned a telephoto lens yesterday that never seemed to focus correctly, but occasionally gave something unexpected.  This image was another rare instance where I liked the result.  The bird is an immature yellow crowned night-heron and the image was taken at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, a National Park devoted to lily ponds and tidal marsh.  I have seen a number of yellow crowned night-herons in different places over the years, but every one of them was an immature bird.  Adults are nocturnal - which is why I have probably never seen one - but the young must be more active in the daytime.  The yellow ovals in the background are actually sparkles of sunlight bouncing off water that had partially flooded the grass.  You would expect the bokeh (out-of-focus) shapes to be round, but for some unknown reason, they are more elliptical and oval. I've always thought the background was maybe more interesting than the bird.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Last Leaf of Autumn

I have this ongoing "project" each fall to come up with an image of what I call "the last leaf of Autumn."  This photo was taken with a 70-300 mm telephoto built by a reputable company, but this particular lens was a piece of junk.  It would rarely focus sharply and it's use was a continual exercise in frustration.  Since it was my first telephoto lens, I thought I was the problem - until I got a better telephoto lens.  Occasionally this poor focus has been an advantage rather than a hindrance.  The weird double silhouettes in this photo are a result of the lens' inability to resolve properly but, in this case, I think it adds to the photo.  I now only use it when I intentionally want a particular soft look.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Call of the Wild

Geese are such graceful creatures and I find them fascinating to watch take off and land.  I was returning from the river over the weekend early because there was so little going on down there.  Some mornings are good while others are not.  On my way back, though, I passed a small cornfield where quite a large flock of geese were feeding.  I decided to stop and see if I could get some flight photos.  Fortunately, over the next hour-and-an-half, they departed in smaller groups, giving me the chance to film several different taking offs.  Unlike any number of other birds, geese will let you know when they are getting ready to leave as they like to discuss their plans just before leaving, so it is easy to be ready to film.  Most leaves were down, but a couple of flocks flew past a particularly colorful tree as they took off.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The End of Autumn

I took this photo over the weekend at sunrise.  Here and there you can still leaves, but the majority of the leaves are down.  If you look closely, you can spot two eagles, each sitting in a separate major tree to the left of the image.  Their heads appear as small white dots which stand out from the background.  In my mind, the contrast between the stark white of the sycamore trees really set off the reds in the rest of the image.  There are houses there that I wasn't aware were even there and are not visible in the spring and summer months.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Peregrine Falcon

Our family went to the Waterfowl Festival in Easton last weekend.  Riverkeepers had a store where one of the members of the organization was displaying a peregrine falcon that he has had for six years.  He has trained it to hunt.  Peregrines were another species whose numbers fell precipitously with the use of DDT, but like the bald eagle, these beautiful birds are once again increasing in number.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Into the Wind

Almost all birds I can think of will take off and land facing into the wind.  It gives them more control on landing and more lift on take-off.  Knowing this, you can be better prepared to capture images of these activities.

Friday, November 18, 2011

It Could Happen...

...But it didn't.  In the November 16th post, I remarked about how difficult it is to get both interesting lighting and interesting activity in the same picture.  Here, there are both.  But three different photos had to be composited to achieve it.  When you initially looked at it, you couldn't know that.  Now that you do, how does it make you feel?  Do you feel like you were lied to?  All three images were "real" photos and depict an activity that could have taken place.  Do you think it is okay to create images like this as long as you let the audience know?  Your thoughts?...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Small, but Definite, Advantage

One of the neighbors who lives right on the river, invited me to film from his dock.  It isn't nearly as long as some of the other docks nearby, but it does get me a hundred feet or so out into the river.  Instead of being limited to shooting what flies out in front of me, I have an almost 360 degree chance to film birds with no trees blocking the shot.  Had I been standing on the shore, I probably would not have gotten this Red-shouldered Hawk passing by.  I truly appreciate this person's generosity.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

River View II

Life is so unfair!  It seems like you either have great lighting with nothing going on or great action with ugly lighting, but hardly ever both at the same time.  Here was an absolutely gorgeous sunrise with absolutely nothing going on.  Life is so unfair.

You know I'm kidding, right?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

River View

This is almost straight across the river from where I stand, a view I never tire of.  The eagles must not tire of it either because there is almost always one sitting in the light-barked tree on the right.  If you look closely, there is one sitting at the very top on the right.  A couple weeks ago, I thought an eagle was sitting in one of those trees, but on closer look, I think it was a great horned owl.  A crow was on a nearby branch standing guard.  I often hear hooting coming across the river where sound seems to carry effortlessly.

Monday, November 14, 2011


While they are a common bird, crows are interesting to watch.  They have tipped me off so many times to the presence of another animal as they raise an alarm and let the entire animal kingdom know there is a fox or an owl or a hawk in the area.  In the past, they have tipped me off to all three.

These two were enjoying an early morning bath.  You might think I have removed the color and treated the photo as a sepia tone, but I haven't.  What you see is the natural light that was present at the time.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Greater Scaup

This drake and two hens spent the hours I was at the river the other morning just drifting with the tide and resting.  They probably only recently completed their migration from Northern Canada and Alaska.  Their numbers have been in steady decline over the last several decades and why is not well understood.  My guess is habitat loss and degradation; if not in the far north, at least here.  They are diving ducks and their diet includes crustaceans and shell fish which are also in trouble in the Bay from poor water quality and silting.  The enormous amount of sediment that ended up in the Bay after Irene and tropical storm Lee doesn't bode well in the short term either.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Eagle has Landed

I photographed this bald eagle a couple of days ago after it caught a shad.  I didn't see where it came from since I was distracted watching a cormorant trying to choke down a huge catfish in the same area.  I was surprised the eagle caught a shad.  I didn't think they were in the river right now.  They are an anadromous fish which run up rivers from the sea in the spring to spawn.  One thing is for sure: it was in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

I have seen very few eagles this fall.  I guess the younger ones have dispersed to find their own piece of river.  I have only seen three in the area this fall.

I thought the eagle would disappear in the marsh grass when it landed, but it landed on an elevated mound and was still completely visible.  It only stayed there a few minutes, then took off and flew across the river.  It was streaming reeds as it flew and, at one point, put it's head down and looked under and back at it's feet to see if it had the fish.  I don't think it did.  All I could see in subsequent pictures were the reeds, which it was losing at it flew.  If it didn't have the fish, I'm pretty sure it would return later and get it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Autumn Abstract

The wonderful colors of Fall are everywhere you look on the river this time of year.  There are still a couple of Great Blue Herons "toughing it out" and probably have plans to stay the winter.  Most do migrate further south, but some will stay as long as there is open water.  I guess I'll stay as long as there is open water too.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


I witnessed something truly memorable a few days ago that I suspect few people have seen.

One July 4th at dawn, my wife and I were heading out to fish just north of the Thomas Johnson bridge when we suddenly found ourselves in a pod of dophin.  They were breaking all around us in pairs as we went under the bridge and headed for the mouth of the Patuxent.  It was one of the neatest things I have personally seen in the animal kingdom.  I believe the same pod visits the Bay every summer as there are reports every year of a pod being sighted.

In the same way, the other day, I saw a flock of cormorants traveling up river.  Instead of being submerged and leaping into the air, they were on the surface and diving below the water.  They were cooperating in herding a school of fish ahead of them and feeding on them as they traveled up river. 
In the photo the birds marked "A" are eating fish.  The bird marked "B" is just diving underwater.  The birds marked "C" have just resurfaced after being underwater.  The remainder are catching their breath in preparation for another dive.  The ones that dive under would come up ahead of the flock as the new leader.

They drove the fish all the way across the bay to my right.  It wasn't until they had finished that I could tell how many there were.  There were roughly twenty-five, but as they were actively fishing, I would only see eight to ten on the surface at any one time.

I have seen one or two cormorants fishing together.  I have also seen flocks of cormorants resting on the water together.  But, I have never seen them fishing cooperatively.  It is something I feel fortunate to have witnessed.

I have made the picture a little bigger than normal. Remember, if you click on the picture, it will come up full screen so you can see it more closely.

Post Update

It turns out there is such a thing as a fog bow.  If you "google" the term, Wikipedia has an article about it. There is also a link on that page to other images of fog bows.  Who knew...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Bow in the Fog

Fog is such an amorphous thing.  Changing shape constantly, you're never sure of where the edges are or even whether you are truly discern it's form.  I kept looking at the fog and seeing this bow.  But I knew I couldn't really be seeing a bow, so I would look away at other things and occasionally look back.  Then, I would see it again and start the same process over because I knew I couldn't be seeing a bow.  The photo doesn't do it complete justice because it had a slight blueish band along the top edge similar to the bands in a rainbow.  It lasted a surprising amount of time; probably ten minutes or more before it finally disappated.  As you can see, it was probably no more than about an hundred yards in length.

Yesterday, I saw something that, like the bow, I have never seen before and was totally amazing.  I'll post that tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Clearing Fog

I arrived at the river at dawn yesterday morning, which was socked in with fog.  Would you have turned around and gone home?  That would have been a mistake.  I got some great shots of geese that didn't realize I was there because of the fog as well as other birds.  The fog took three hours to clear, but as this photo shows, it was worth the wait.  It was absolutely gorgeous.  I also saw a fogbow.  I don't know what else to call it.  It was like a rainbow, but it was made out of fog.  I'll post a photo tomorrow.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

I Can Almost See the Other Side

I canceled my plan to go down to the Patuxent this morning.  The wind is blowing 10-20 mph and that can make all the difference in scenes that include water.  Once it hits the open water, wind speeds up even more.  On this morning from earlier this week, it was absolutely slick calm the entire time I was there.  Even a 10 mph breeze can riffle the water into an ugly gray mess whereas a smooth surface will reflect the blue from the sky.  I was trying to "kill two birds with one stone" as it were.  Shoot birds and the fall colors with the priority on fall colors since they don't last long.  The wind should lay down by tomorrow...

Friday, November 4, 2011

Taking a Little Extra Care of Equipment

Extreme changes in temperature mean you have to take a little more care with your camera equipment.  I'm talking about moving from A/C to hot, muggy weather outside or from a warm house into freezing temperatures.  Both will cause condensation on your lens, but more importantly, condensation on inner electronics that can potentially cause real problems.  I routinely use a kitchen garbage bag and place the entire camera bag inside the garbage bag and close it up when going from one extreme to the other.  Once the temperature of the camera equipment has stabilized, its safe to remove it from the bag. 

By doing this an hour in advance of using the equipment, it prevents the lens from fogging up while you are trying to use it.   I forgot to do it the other morning and had to deal with the front lens fogging up.  Despite wiping it off, it kept fogging up.  That is what is causing the "glow" on the boat in the photo above which, in this case, I thought was a serendipity.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Clearing Fog

This is from yesterday morning on the Patuxent.  It was an hour-and-a-half before I could see anything but the end of the dock.  With the temperature at 36 degrees, it wasn't pleasant standing there.  So why do it?  Because I knew if I waited, I would see things that would make me glad I had taken the time and trouble to be there.  If I get one shot that I really like, I think of the excursion as a success.  That being true, yesterday was very successful. 

This scene shows where I usually stand on a dock whose owner has kindly given me permission to use it.  At this point, the fog had coalesced into clouds in the middle of the river which rose, then dissipated.  The first thing I saw when I got there was that muscovy duck, which swam out of the fog from up river to the front of the dock.  When it saw me, it continued on down river, quickly disappearing again in the fog.  I had never seen it swim and, though it is a duck, wondered if it could.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Heading for the Blind

Here is another photo I wish I could have given to the boat's owner.  This guy and his wife aren't out pleasure riding on such a cold morning, so I'm guessing that they are going goose hunting.  The only one really enjoying the ride is the laborador retriever.  The camera was panning with the boat, so on closer inspection, you can see the blur in the grass behind the boat.  To pan successfully, keep the focus point on the exact same spot so that the subject itself is sharp while everything else around it is blurred.  Also, continue to pan even after you have finished the shot.  Stopping a split second too soon will cause unwanted results.  If I thought the guy could be identified, I wouldn't have posted the picture.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Snow Geese and Cormorants

Here is the cormorant displaying as they drifted downriver on the tide.  They passed a pair of snow geese which had migrated down from the Artic.  This was one of the few times I have seen this species at this location.  Snow geese are most commonly white, but there is a darker morph or version which was once thought to be a different species.  They were known as a blue goose.