Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Weather Conditions and Photography

I think I posted this photo a few days ago, but I wanted to demonstrate how different the lighting conditions can make a place look.  That little indent in the shoreline doesn't look like much, but it is actually an opening into a gut that goes up into the marsh.

In the post from October 20th, I showed some photos of two hunters in a boat who came up river, did a sweep around the bay out in front of me, then went back down river.  Unknown to them, there were some hunters in a corner of the marsh, and they pretty much ruined their chance of shooting anything when they went through the area.  I knew they were there because I had heard their guns earlier in the morning. Once the two boaters left the area, they must have decided it was a good time to move.  They were in an (overloaded) john boat, came up along the far shore and turned up the same gut from the last picture. They also had a golden retriever with them.

As they turned up into the gut, a flock of red-winged blackbirds (most likely) startled and flew off.

I didn't think their chances of seeing geese up in there was very good but, wouldn't you know, a couple of days later, here came a gaggle of geese that turned right up into the same spot to see what they could see.  They weren't up in there for too long before they came back out and flew off.  I don't know whether the hunters had any luck as I left shortly after they went up in there.

Here is the same spot a morning or two later.  It was not a good morning for photography. The day was ugly.  The tide was out, exposing the mud along the shoreline. There was a breeze blowing which kept the water riffled up, excluding any chance of water reflections, and there was a heavy haze in the air.  It does demonstrate, though, how different weather can effect photographs.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Emerald Cove

For someone who is serious about photography, there is no better program than Adobe's Lightroom software. And if you are serious about photography, you should be shooting in the RAW format. Yes, it has it's downside, in that the format has to converted to a more common file type, but the benefits of RAW far outweigh the negatives. One of the benefits is the ability to push the artistry of a photograph more towards your vision, even if that is not what the camera captured. Using Photoshop and a jpeg file, I may have been able to accomplish the same result, but it probably would have been at the expense of image quality.  Jpegs don't have nearly the bit depth of RAW files and banding in the colors would have been more noticeable. On the other hand, pushing the color to emerald in the RAW file was a piece of cake. It is also non-destructive because the changes are not made to the file until it is exported to another file type while the RAW file can be returned to it's original state. Yes, the end result is closer to fantasy, but that is what I had in mind and what I had been waiting for with the lighting.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Barred Owl

I'm so proud of my wife!  A week ago, you could have said, "Look at that semi," and she would have asked, "Where?"  Four days following cataract surgery, she was sitting out on the porch and came in to tell me she had spotted an owl. Despite how large it looks in these photos, the owl was quite a ways away and only looks close because of the telephoto lens used to take the pictures.

This is another species that regurgitates pellets.  (See the blog post from Oct. 27th.)  Owls swallow their prey whole and after about eight hours regurgitate the indigestible bones, feathers, and the like in a compact pellet.  They can provide clues as to where an owl habitually roosts if you know what to look for under trees. But, you also need to have a little better idea of what type of habitat they would roost in.  You aren't going to find pellets under just any tree.

We saw a barred owl (probably this same one) about a year ago.  They are more likely to be active on a cloudy day if you see them during the day at all.  Both times we have seen it, the day was very gray and gloomy. Notice how the bill is turned down instead of projecting straight out. 

With it's head turned away, you can see the beautiful pattern of it's head feathers. They can turn their heads a phenomenal amount, quite a bit further than straight back behind them.  I saw this same bird do that last year.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Rocket Man!

How weird is this?  I have seen geese do this on a couple of different occasions.  They are not taking off but, rather, are coming in for a landing.  The type of air they are all in at the moment determines how they respond in their flight and is why a flock will often seem symmetrical in their flight.  They are all having to deal with the same wind conditions.

Sometimes the wind gets the best of them. On this very windy day geese were having trouble simply staying upright like the one over on the left. Comical to watch, but probably not too pleasant for the goose.

Okay, so explain this one. I can't. All I know is they were all doing the same thing and I had to capture it before the fleeting second was gone.

Can you spot the geese in this photo?  And I think it's going to be a long, long time...

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Here's Something You May Not Have Known

Many predatory species of birds regurgitate pellets consisting of bones, hair, feathers and other indigestible parts of things they eat.  Among the birds that do this are hawks, shore birds, owls, cormorants and kingfishers to name a few.  You can discover an owl's habitual roost by looking for pellets under trees, if you know what you are looking for. 

I was standing on the dock and my eye happened to catch this pellet sitting on top of one of the pilings.  It was resting on a piling that had an protective aluminum cap on it and that was a small clue to what birds didn't leave the pellet (since I know which birds won't sit on the metal caps).  It was originally sitting on the discolored spot seen just in front of it.  I took this picture after I put it back down.  Based on the size of it and the fact that it was on this metal cap, I am guessing that it was left by a kingfisher. If you look closely, you can see small scales from a fish throughout the pellet.

Almost as if to confirm it, a kingfisher flew into the area just as I was leaving.  I was able to get a few photos before it flew off.  It didn't go too far, however, and by the time I got to my car, it had returned to sit over the water on a prominent branch scouting for fish.  That allowed me the opportunity to take a couple more photos that were a little better than the first.  Then it flew off again in the direction of the dock and when I peaked through some bushes, I could see it sitting on one of the pilings.  I'm pretty sure the pellet is from a kingfisher and, just as likely, from this exact bird.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Fall Colors II

This is the only building along the shoreline that I don't mind filming.  There are several within sight, but I try to avoid getting them into the background of pictures.  But, I don't mind making this one the main subject occasionally.  It is an interesting group of structures, being right on the water as they are.  I don't know what they were built to function as, but I would guess they were in some kind of fish business.  I say "were" because I have rarely seen anyone around the buildings and only rarely see any fisherman coming or going.  The boat on the lift adds a nice point of interest.

I told you I might be obsessive/compulsive. I can't help myself. It is just too gorgeous NOT to take a picture.  What is excluded is just as important as what is included in an image.  I wanted to include the color in the trees and the reflection, but I didn't want to include any sky, which was plain blue and would have been a very light distraction at the top of the image.  The same is true at the bottom where if I had gone much lower, I would have picked up the reflection of the plain sky, also a distraction. That is a good rule to keep in mind, though: exclude as many distractions as possible. That often means spending just a little more time studying what is in your image before pressing the shutter.

The dock I stand on is also a favorite of the great blue herons, used as a base for sighting fish.  Sometimes when they fly in from some other place and discover I have their spot, they get very cranky.  That is what happened with this one who began croaking vociferously (I'd use another word if I could think of one, but you can look it up or just infer what it means) - croaking vociferously when he realized I had his spot.  So, he pulled up and landed in a tree where he sat watching me and sulking until I left.  It probably didn't take him more than a couple of minutes to move in to "my spot." (I hope you can tell when I'm kidding with the parenthetical remark.)

I'm a sucker for lights.  Kinda like Christmas lights. Here, the subject is the light itself.  It is odd how you need darkness to see the light.  Someday, that won't be true.  Think about it.

Another image with nothing going on.  It is actually the deep shadows in the grass, only seen at a certain point in the morning when the sun reaches a specific angle, that prompt me to "take a snap." That is what the British would call it.

If you are really good, I guess you pre-select an off-center focus point on the fly (no pun intended) so that the main subject doesn't end up centered. Centered is a big photographic faux paux.  Much too static.  I'm not fast enough to press all the buttons and keep track of the subject at the same time so I use the focus point in the center of the image.  The particular point is also more sensitive to contrast which is needed in focusing.  It doesn't matter much, though, I can crop it later to get the subject off-center.  The images aren't being increased for any one's wall, so losing a bit around the edge is not a problem.

To slightly alter a line from "Knight and Day" (a hilarious movie with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz) - With crop; without crop.  WITH crop; WITHOUT crop.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger

Before the computer crash, I had said I was going to do devote a few entries to some of the most memorable things I have seen.  This one certainly qualifies.  Look at the size of the fish!  I'd guess it weighs three, maybe four pounds.  It's huge!  This bird caught the catfish out in open water also.  I had watched the same Great Blue Heron the day before catch one that was slightly smaller.  He was flying back to his favorite dock with the fish when he dropped it.  You should have heard him complain the rest of the way back.  I'm sure this was on his mind as he headed back to the dock with this fish.  Unlike the day before, he did make it.  After spearing it thirty or more times (I lost count), he actually ate the fish.  Herons don't break off bits and pieces of fish like osprey or eagles do.  They swallow the fish whole.  I thought it might kill him, but it didn't.  What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, as they say...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fall Colors

I thought I would post a few photos of the Fall colors while they are still upon us.  It has only been in the past week or so that the colors have really begun to come on locally.  I'm not sure whether the great blue herons just migrate late or whether they stick it out for the winter.  I don't see as many this time of year so maybe it is a little bit of both.

I was motivated to take this image because of the mirror reflections of the dead falls along the shore. Although the shoreline is in deep shadows, you can trace where it has to be by following where the branches and their reflections meet.

I have never seen this duckblind in use.  Someone has added some fresh camoflage to the opening though, so they must have plans.  I would love to examine the top of the blind.  It is a favorite place for bald eagles to land and eat a fish they have caught.  I bet there are plenty of fish bones on the roof.

No, you haven't seen this photo before since I only took it a couple of days ago.  But, I have taken a lot like it in the same spot.  I can't help myself.  I may be obsessive/compulsive.  There is often an eagle or two sitting in the top of the large trees as there is in this photo. You can see it's white head and brown body against a dark green shadow in the upper right at the top of one of the tall trees.  The blind from the last picture is a couple of hundred yards down the shoreline to the left.

When the landscape is this beautiful, you hope for some activity to add interest to the scene, but it doesn't always happen. Still, the artistry of God's creative hand is so, well, awesome - to use an overused word in it's true sense.  You can get the smooth look of the water by leaving your shutter open longer so that the moving water blurs.  Only thing is, if anything else is moving (such as a bird), it will also blur.  In this case, however, the shutter was only open for 1/750th of a second - which means the placid look of the water was actually there because there was absolutely no wind.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Spear Fishing

I had never seen a Great Blue Heron land out in open water before this day.  Then, to my amazement, I saw four on this single day attempt to catch fish from flight.  Three out of four were successful.  A 75% success rate is pretty good in anyones book. At the time, I didn't even think a Great Blue Heron could float, let alone swim.  But they can do both well enough to get by.  How do you like the way it is using it's neck like a table? Finally, notice how it caught the fish.  It speared it through and through! Imagine taking a stick in the shape of it's beak and stabbing this fish right through in open water like a spear fisherman. How much force do you think it would take? And the bird did that BEFORE it landed on the water! I find it hard to believe that a bird this big could even sneak up on a fish in the first place.  They may be ungainly and rather ugly, but they do have a rather unique and admirable skill set.

Once they are down, how does a bird this big get back up into the air? I have seen it numerous times, but it still floors me to see them do it. This is something a bald eagle cannot do.  If an eagle accidentally lands in water, it cannot get airborne again and has to either swim to shore or drown.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Hanging Out

The dock contained more cormorants and gulls than I can ever remember seeing there before. I counted 43 in the top photo and 48 in the lower image.  There are several docks in that little corner of the river.  So why do they always congregate on this particular one?  The one behind it is twice as long and yet there isn't a bird on it.  It is because of the caps on the tops of the pilings - or rather, the lack of them.  The other docks all have metal caps, some pyramidal in shape, that discourages water from standing and rotting out the piling. But, it also discourages birds from landing on them - and water birds do like their pilings.

Notice the seagull on the metal arm over on the right of the top picture. That surprises me. I have never seen a seagull sitting in a tree because of their webbed feet and that metal arm is a branch for all intents and purposes. Did I ever mention how much I like that pine tree that is kicked out over the marsh. (Yeah, only about ten times...)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Open Season

I'm back! I upgraded my computer back in March. I went with a solid state drive for the operating system thinking it would be more reliable than a conventional drive. Early in September, it crashed. While I didn't lose any personal stuff - I keep that on another drive and backed up - it was still a blow. All the programs had to be reloaded and reconfigured.  Programs like Photoshop and Lightroom have a lot of presets and other plug-ins that had to be reloaded. It was very discouraging.

It also made me rethink whether or not I wanted to continue to blog. I didn't just quit blogging during this time, but I also took a hiatus from shooting birds.  Sometimes you just get burned out.

Reviewing images in Lightroom, I realized how much I miss being out on the river. And I also realized the blog gives me a chance to share that with you.  So, here I am.  I don't know if I will be as consistent as I was before (daily), but I am going to aim for a least a couple of entries a week.

This series was taken Saturday morning. I have been to the river a couple of times, but have hardly seen any birds to engage with my camera.  But, that is okay.  It is still so beautiful and the photography gives me a good excuse to stand there and enjoy it.

I'll bet I heard near fifty shotguns go off this morning.  I am not sure if it is duck or goose season, but the hunters were sure out in force.  I don't have any concerns about getting shot because pellets don't carry that far and there wasn't anyone near me.

These two guys are hunters. They came up the river, looped around in the big bay formed by the oxbow out in front of where I stand and returned back downriver.  I believe they probably hadn't had good luck in their first location and were looking for another.

I am not averse to taking pictures of boats if nothing is going on with birds.  In fact, I enjoy taking them and would love to be able to send them to the guy who owns the boat.  Wouldn't you like to have pictures of your boat if you were out there enjoying the day?  Maybe I will see them again.  I'll try to flag him down and get his email address.

Autumn air, with its lower humidity creates deeper shadows and brighter brights and also creates more saturated colors.  I took the opening image where I knew the boat would stand out against the dark shoreline because of the wake it was kicking up.

Profiling the people against the wake helps to center the viewer's attention on the hunters where it belongs.

This one doesn't succeed as well because the wake hides the hunters, but as far as the setting and the disturbed cormorant goes, I had to take it anyway.

Here you have the gorgeous fall colors, their reflections in the water (which had been disturbed by the boat in it's pass upriver), the colors smeared by the water's motion, and the lighter boat standing out against the darker shoreline.

I wanted to include the dead fall in the background as an additional point of interest and I wanted the boat to be off center and their own wake has created an interesting pattern in the water reflections.

A classic shot of two hunters headed out in the fall.

Chiaroscuro is a type of art where there is strong contrast between the light and dark parts of the work. It is something I try to incorporate into photography when I can. I could have lightened the shadows, but I think it would have killed the interest.

There weren't any second takes.  There was one chance to take some meaningful pictures of two guys hunting.  I have tried to communicate some of the thinking that went into the decision about when to shoot and what to include.