Tuesday, November 3, 2015
Photographing Fall colors doesn't always have to be about sweeping vistas of mountainsides aflame. There is room for studies at the other end of the spectrum, a more intimate and microcosmic look at the beauty of Autumn leaves. Even this image incorporates more of the landscape than I had in mind.
The woods surrounding our home are made up of a large amount of hickory trees which turn a lovely shade of yellow this time of year. By positioning the sun on the opposite side from the camera and out of frame, it is possible to bring out the translucent qualities of the leaves.
By moving in even closer, the images becomes a study in abstract form as well as color. Depth of field and the point of focus are two of the main concerns. Too much depth of field creates a background that is too sharp and distracting.
One of my favorite trees this time of year are the sumac, which I am not really sure would even be classified as a tree. They are more of a large bush, but their color in the fall is one of the most intense reds seen in nature. I took this image in a different direction, making texture a main theme. I am not sure, but I am guessing the moniker "winged" comes from the look of the stems.
This particular species is called a winged Sumac and is considered a dwarf plant. It is actually a member of the cashew family. The plant produces panicles of yellow flowers in summer that mature into small fruits called drupes in the fall. Some years the birds don't seem to pay much attention to them, but when the ground is covered with snow, they become a source of energy for Bluebirds, Robins and other small songbirds as well as woodpeckers. Having said how colorful their leaves are, in this photo, I decided to render the color more subdued.
I am so attracted to the forms of the hickory leaves. They have so many unusual characteristics, like the way the leaves become larger the further out on the stem they are positioned. When I was growing up, shagbark hickories were common in the area around our home and each fall, my brothers, sister and I would gather nuts like squirrels to enjoy over the winter. They were an awful lot of work for a small reward because the shell was so thick and the inner nut so small. This photo lent itself to processing as a high-key image.
I have a long-term project that I call "the last leaf of summer" where I try to find a single intensely colored leaf in late fall that embodies the "last gasp" of the season. In trying to vary the result last fall, I incorporated two techniques I hadn't tried with this project before: motion and double exposure. By decreasing shutter speed and not mounting the camera on a tripod, you can suggest motion through blurring. My current camera has a feature where it will produce a double exposure in which motion can also be integral to the abstracted result. I usually prefer to remove noise from the image, but I actually added it to this one. If I processed it again, I would probably remove the small, dark spots on the left of the image which are dust on the camera sensor. I left them as added texture, but have since decided they are too distracting.
Saturday, October 31, 2015
The Chesapeake Bay region is within the Rusty Blackbird's winter range. On the Eastern Seaboard it stays along the coast up through southern New England. As the summer progresses, the rusty feathers become worn and the bird turns darker.
The Wilson's Snipe is also a bird that can be seen in this area over winter. They breed throughout Canada and Alaska, so this area is like their Florida in winter.
This is one of the Osprey pair that nests on the platform on the edge of the marsh just outside of town in North Beach. This was just at the beginning of the nesting season, a time of final preparations on the nest.
I'm not sure if this is the male or female. It was early April and the bird looks in excellent health for having finished it's migration a week or two earlier. It is not a tagged bird.
Both the male and female gather material for the nest. That is what this Osprey is doing. They do not land to do this, but fly low over the marsh and snatch grasses and mud for the nest in their talons without stopping. This one gathered a clump of mud and took it to the nest. A little while later both flew, one right after the other, picking up mud like WWII fighter planes in a strafing run.
Friday, October 30, 2015
I saw these two crows back in the spring. They appeared to be trying to decide where to site their nest. The crow's nest on a masted ship purportedly got its name because it was so high up like a — er, crow's nest.
This Bald Eagle also had nesting on it's mind as it parachuted down into the marsh to pick up a stick. Perhaps, like Osprey, they add sticks to their aerie throughout the year, because this was already past the time when they would have been nesting.
Can you imagine how long it would take to clean your entire body if you had to use a toothpick? The tips of their bills are pretty much all they have for preening. phttt...
Bald Eagles spook just about any other species of bird. Like these Green-winged Teal, birds feel safer if they are in the air when an Eagle is flying around.
The ones with the mahogany and green heads are the males. The less colorful ones are the females. Eventually, they settle back down when the Eagle becomes a speck on the horizon. Their numbers bottomed out in the early 1960's at about three quarters of a million. Today, there are roughly 3.5 million Green-winged Teal.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
I took a bunch of photos of Snowy Egrets at the marsh in the spring. I was like an addict who couldn't help himself. Who would have thought the mud could make such a nice backdrop, the way it isolates the birds?
The black leg, orange-yellow foot is typical of the breed. Young have duller greenish legs.
Osprey often find sticks on the ground to carry back to the nest. This one, however, had actually broken the branch out of the tree.
The bird on the right portrays the typical egret posture; the bird on the left is in a posture more reminiscent of a heron.
By August the long aigrettes, or breeding plumage, are shed in a molt prior to the migration south but until then, they are pretty spectacular looking.
Monday, October 26, 2015
Northern Shovelers are such graceful birds in flight. I posted another frame from this series back in the spring. I was glad to capture them against the backdrop of a sycamore rather than just sky. They have one of the longer wingspans of ducks. When their young are born, they have a regular duckbill shape. It is only as the mature that the bill becomes "spoonbill" shaped with the tip being almost twice as wide as the base.
This is about as monochrome as it gets out in the wild. These are mostly Lesser Yellowlegs with a couple of Snipe mixed in.
Blue-winged Teal can be very difficult to photograph because they spend so much time with their heads underwater. If they had not been moving from one mud flat to another, I would not have gotten so many with their heads above water. Notice how difficult it would be to identify the females from other similarly mottled females of other species. They do have a telltale patch of blue on their wing, but it is not always visible.
Lesser Yellowlegs eat mostly insects but will occasionally eat small fish if the opportunity arises. I photographed one catching and eating a small fish in the spring. Females will abandon the nest before the young can fly, leaving the male to defend them until they can fend for themselves.
When they are only moving a short distance to another location, they won't tuck their feet, but will let them hang down in readiness to land. Many other species also do this. It is not as aerodynamic as pure flight.
Early on, I was able to photograph some striking images of Snowy Egrets against mud backdrops that appeared almost as if they were painted. It caused the birds to really stand out. The streams that coursed through the mud narrowed the area where minnows could swim, making it easier for them to be caught.
Sunday, October 25, 2015
The colors and patterns on many animals can make it very difficult to spot them in their environment. In addition to camouflage, they also use other techniques to hide. One common method used by many different animals is to simply stand completely still.
In this photo, the two male Wood ducks can be seen fairly easily over on the left. The left arrow points to a third half-hidden male and the arrow on the right is pointing to a Great Blue Heron that you might have overlooked if the arrow wasn't there.
I recall a mother raccoon that brought her two babies up on the deck one year and tried to catch my wife's goldfish out of her little pond. I went out there and the mother took off, but the babies froze in plain sight thinking that if they were simply completely still, they would surely be invisible. Even when I shushed them, they wouldn't move. This is not the pond; it is the birdbath, where they were politely washing their hands before the main course.
I was painting around the front door yesterday afternoon when a herd of ten or more Whitetail Deer snuck down the ridge on the side of the house. I watched one acting just like a kid. It went from tree to tree hiding most of it's body behind each one and peeking around the side. This photo was taken last year from the same porch where I saw the herd coming from the back of the house. I beat them to the side porch and got real still before they passed. This female spent the longest time standing still and studying me to see if I would move and whether I was a threat.
Saturday, October 24, 2015
I was going to continue yesterday's blog with the thoughts I am about to relate, but I decided to give them their own space since it is a change in the entire subject.
Digital photographs right out of the can are mostly blah. I don't care how you choose to set your camera, they are not going to look all that good. No one who takes photography seriously is going to be happy with the images just the way they look right out of the camera.
Photographers are a cagey bunch. Read photography magazines and they will admit to making "minor adjustments" in tone or contrast, etc. "But otherwise," they insist, "The image is just like I saw it out there in the wild." Yeah, right.
Who starts a race and doesn't finish it? Who goes half-way and says, "That is far enough?" No one I know of! It doesn't make sense. That is essentially what these guys are saying, though. I could have done more, but I wanted to keep it "real."
You want to know the truth? I process the heck out the pictures I take until I am completely happy with the results. The subject matter may not be that great, but I keep processing until I get the result I am looking for.
I have been using a program for a couple of years that beats Photoshop by a mile and with a lot less effort. (If you are curious about what the program is called, email me.) Sometimes I end up with so many pleasing versions, I have a hard time deciding which one to choose.
Both of today's photos are the same except for one detail: in the first the color saturation was enhanced quite a bit while in the second it was diminished almost as much. The difference affects the birds almost not at all, but it does affect the background. Since there is so much white in the picture, the second creates a monochrome appearance and changes the mood of the image.
If you click back and forth on the thumbnail pictures, you'll get a better idea of the differences between the two photographs.
Friday, October 23, 2015
American Ringed-necked ducks are very cool looking with the white markings on their face. I can't figure why they don't call them Ring-billed ducks since the white ring around their bill is much more obvious from a distance than a ring around their neck. The brown one in the middle is the lone female in this bunch. For a supposedly common duck, I don't really see all that many of them. They might be mistaken for the Greater Scaup which has similar markings sans the rings.
Here is another mystery. I don't understand why this swan is so perfectly content to live life alone. You would think it would miss the companionship of others of the same species. There was a Sandhill Crane in this area a few years ago that also spent its days in a solo existence for at least a couple of years. I don't know if it is still in the area or whether it finally went looking for other Sandhills.
Here she (or is it he?) is patrolling her domain. I wonder what her reaction would be if another Mute Swan visited the pond. That would be interesting to see. Her wings are in the raised or "warning" position indicating an aggressive attitude, although I don't remember anything being near her that she might be upset with. Unless it was me. She had passed by me a few minutes earlier.
It is open season on Wood Ducks right now. It wasn't all that long ago that the population was facing extinction of a lack of good nesting sites. They naturally nest in tree cavities found in bottomland hardwood forests. Volunteers got organized and started building and installing nesting boxes and, before you know it, the ducks started coming back. There was probably a population of between twenty-five and fifty at this pond early in the spring. I am not sure where they are finding all the nesting cavities because there isn't one box on this pond that I am aware of.
A mother Woody will encourage her young to leave the nest the day after hatching. That can entail a jump from a hole in a tree fifty feet or more up and a march of up to a mile to get to water. They are precocious, born with their eyes open and the ability to do many things on their own such as swim. This pond is hemmed in a by major highways and a railroad track, so there is a limit to where they can find suitable nesting cavities. They are finding them somewhere close, though, since there were quite a few clutches of chicks on the pond in the spring.
Thursday, October 22, 2015
I am not sure how professional nature photographers can make a living. Take a photograph like this. Except now substitute the seagulls with Whooping Cranes or Sandhill Cranes and the background for Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico or some other "exotic" location. What is the difference between the controlled chaos out there or right here near home? My answer is a few thousand dollars for airfare, hotels, rental car and meals. When you get back, you are several thousands dollars in the hole before you even attempt to sell a print.
I personally would just as soon stay close and film these birds. But you say, "They are nothing but stinkin' seagulls!" To which Winnie the Pooh would reply, "Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them.." What is it that piques your interest in a photo like this? Is it the species of birds or the chaos? If the answer isn't the former, the photographer has gone to New Mexico for nothing.
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Birds standing in water, like these Lesser Yellowlegs, remind of little islands. I thought I would have more opportunity to photograph them this summer, but that didn't happen.
Here are three Killdeer on little islands. They always strike me as being very worried birds. It is strange how animals can embody certain qualities.
Sometimes I take a picture that is intended to be an ornament to a photo book — if I ever do one. Like a little postage stamp-sized image at the beginning of a chapter.
A pig in a puddle
The green on Green-winged Teal is not green — it is neon GREEN! I wouldn't be surprised if it was glow-in-the-dark too. Teal are the last ducks to migrate and the first to return. They are already back in this area. The two in back are males.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
I enjoy photographing on the Patuxent because I can do two things at once: film the birds in the area and wait for the perfect light to photograph the Autumn foliage. The birds will always have you waiting so you may as well have a secondary goal as well. Okay, so I may have pumped up the colors a little.
Reflections like these are not available any time you want to film. Sun angle or position and water conditions (flat water and no wind) have to be just right. Not to mention the leaves are at peak for only a short period.
This photo and the next are very similar and were taken on the same morning.
This is the photo I was referring to in yesterday's post. Compare this image and the last and see if the fish splash doesn't add just the right ornament to the picture. I could not have timed that. It was caught at the perfect instant when the water was arced just right. The fact that it isn't centered in the frame is a bonus. My eye circles around the image and returns ineluctably to the splash.
It fulfills most all the major intentions I try to achieve with a photo. It has whimsey, a sense of innocence, peacefulness, and beauty. Without the splash, I think the photo would only exhibit the last two characteristics.
Monday, October 19, 2015
But it's all right now, I learned my lesson well.
You see, ya can't please everyone, so ya gotta please yourself.— Rick Nelson
It has taken me a long time to reach the point where I don't wish I had someone else's photographic talent. I am happy with my own. If you happen to like some of the photographs I create, great. If not, my daddy had a folksy southern saying that fits — if you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree.
The ponds I visited over the past winter continually amazed me with the variety of waterfowl they attracted. There are three species in this image, but I could have just as easily displayed a photo with five or six kinds of birds. You have to pick your shots because the backgrounds are not always picturesque at these ponds. I failed in that regard, but I was focused (no pun intended) on the beautiful banking moves of the upper three Canvasback Ducks.
The extreme northern tip of the Chesapeake Bay's waters is fairly shallow. It is ideal for growing sub aquatic vegetation (SAV), but in recent times the health of the plants have ebbed and flowed with the silt from heavy rain events. In good years, the grasses attract ducks by the thousands, especially Canvasback.
SAV in smaller ponds can also attract puddle ducks and divers and the competition may not be as fierce. One type of grass is so favored by American Wigeon, like the female in the picture, it has been given the name wigeon grass.
A Wigeon and an American Coot went into a pond — stop me if you've heard this one...
Sometimes, unintentionally, my timing has been just right to capture something I couldn't capture if I tried. In this photo, a coot is just emerging from a dive underwater and I happened to catch the moment. That has also happened surprisingly frequently with fish jumping out of the water. I can think of one photo I took which, in and of itself is nice, but a classic splash of a fish that I just happened to catch, really sets if off. I'll see if I can find it and post it...
I am a sucker for the choreographed landings of Canada Geese. They can be as artful as the Radio City Rockettes. Try as I may, for some reason I can not ignore a flock of geese going over. If I am out in the yard doing something, I have to stop and watch. I can't help myself.
My most memorable moment involving geese was not even a picture I could share, but a mental image. I was sitting on the porch one mild autumn morning on which there was a heavy fog over the region. I heard the complaints of a flock of geese growing louder and louder and could tell they were going to pass right over me. They flew over barely above the trees like half-seen ghosts in the fog. It is hard to describe how beautiful it was.
I caught this hawk (variety unknown) in a dive that I felt sure would end in the capture of some unsuspecting prey. To my astonishment, it wasn't hunting at all but was simply landing in a tree. Birds will often fly downward on the way to landing on a branch and turn upward just as they reach the branch so that their flight stalls and they land gently and almost effortlessly.
That is what this one was doing, except that it was doing it at very high speed and in an arc that took the entire height of the tree to slow it down.
It had so much forward momentum it was in the top of the tree before it slowed down enough to land in the top branches. It is the only time I have ever seen a hawk do such a thing.