Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Atmosphere in Your Photos

ckick on image to enlarge

     I love atmospheric elements in my photos, and I especially enjoy images that display fog. Here in southeastern Tennessee, we often get dense fog early in the morning filling the mountain valleys. It creates a mood and a kind of softbox lighting effect that lends itself to great photographic images. Of course, the trick is to push yourself out the door and use this fog to your advantage. Over the years, I have trained myself to hit the trails when I awaken to fog. It's a kind of jackpot win for me, when these conditions reveal themselves. I instinctively know that "today it is possible." With the conditions in place, I have a chance of capturing something meaningful.......something that will translate my vision to the viewer, and I think that is what all of this is about.  I hope you'll all agree that this mornings' shoot was worthwhile. Now clean off your gear and get out there !

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Savannah Sunrise

click to enlarge image

      The fall is a busy time for me. I spend most of the fall season traveling throughout the country exhibiting and selling my photography. It's tough to find the time to fit in some meaningful shooting, but over the years I have managed to identify a few very special places that allow me to use my down time wisely. One of those places is Savannah Wildlife Refuge, located just outside of the city of Savannah, Georgia. It's one of those locations that simply calls you back over and over again, and it rarely disappoints.
     The most important thing for a photographer is Light. My personal preference is the angular light of a morning sunrise. With the right conditions, this can be a magical time for a photographer, or it can just be a time to spend alone with your own thoughts. Either win.

     Last month, while doing an exhibit in Savannah, I used the time to capture several shots that I personally find satisfying. This Savannah Sunrise shot conveys much of what I am trying to do with my photography. It's a "painterly" image of the marsh at its' best. The combination of morning light and the clouds of the cool morning combine to create an image that invites the viewer to experience the marsh in an intimate way. As a photographer, moments like this give me great pleasure and leave me with a sense of accomplishment. When a day starts like this, you have to love what you do and be thankful. I am a lucky man.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Catching Hummingbirds......or not.

click on image to enlarge

      "How do you shoot hummingbirds?" That's the question I get all the time. Apparently, lots of folks have a very difficult time trying to capture hummingbirds in flight. So I thought I would take a few minutes to share some of my strategies for making hummingbirds freeze in the air.
      Let me just try to explain the photo above. To begin with, hummingbirds are not attracted to lilies, but they are attracted to the feeder that is hanging above the lilies, but out of the frame. Secondly, auto-focus does not work well when it comes to tracking hummingbirds. They are just too fast for most auto-focus systems. The solution is to carefully place your feeder and your flower so that you can prefocus on the stamen of the flower. By setting your shutter speed to 1/2000 th of a sec. and raising your cameras' ISO to accommodate that shutter speed, your ready to begin.
    Most modern DSLR's provide a burst shooting rate of at least 5 frames per second. Set the camera up to utilize this fast shooting rate and practice firing a few quick bursts. Check the focus and the depth of field you're achieving. I generally like to shoot at f.8, which gives me enough depth of field to capture the action. Using a 300 mm. lens, I can almost always get the kind of shot I am after. Occasionally, I find I need a bit longer lens, which may cause me to pull out a 400mm. Your lens choice is an important factor in the results you are going to achieve. Don't waste your money on cheap glass. The real quality of a photo comes from the lenses, not the camera.
     Good luck with your shots. Let me know how it works for you.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Using Fall Color in Your Photographs

Click on Image to enlarge


     Fall is the season we all wait for after suffering through the heat of summer. Fall brings the cool air and the colors of the season that can present wonderful photographic opportunities. With the cool air comes the migration of countless species of birds to the mountains and woodlands of eastern Tennessee. It's the time of year when all of us want to play hooky from our jobs and our lives to go out and enjoy the natural world. For me, as a photographer, it's the time of year when the air gets clearer and the photo ops abound. It's the time of year that beckons me to pursue the hunt of birds and backgrounds.
     The warm hues of fall color can make an otherwise mediocre shot more interesting to the eye. Fall weeds become beautiful gardens, and leaves become nature's decorative backdrops. It seems like everywhere you look there is some kind of photo just waiting its' turn to be taken. Here in the Smokies, we have the joy of seeing so much color and so much wildlife,  all combining to create unlimited photographic opportunities. With the smallest effort, one can capture scenes worthy of print and display. Regardless of where you make your home, Fall is the season to get out and explore. It's the season to renew your love of the outdoors and to bring home images to share with friends and family. So grab your camera, play hooky for a day, and remind yourself why we're on this planet. Life is for the living.......and the joy of life comes from the depth of living we allow ourselves to experience. Capture some images and hang them on the wall to remind you of this everyday. You'll  smile every time to look at them.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Landscape Bird Photography

click on image to enlarge

In one of my previous posts, I talked about how photos should cause the viewer to ask questions. I think it is important to lead the viewer down a road that suggests further exploration of the subject depicted in the photo. It's never enough to simply put a beautiful picture in front of someone. Without provoking a reaction, the photo has not succeeded. An artist needs to find a passageway into the mind of the viewer. As a bird photographer, it's important to me that my audience never leave my work with the singular thought that they have just viewed a "bird photograph." I simply never understand photographers who seem to think that their chosen subject is enough to satisfy an educated public. Whether you choose to photograph animals, pottery, automobiles, sports, or whatever else might catch your fancy, you need to find a way to take your work to a level that goes beyond what the viewer is accustom to seeing. In my case, when it comes to photographing birds, I seek to find birds in places and in situations that evoke an emotional response from my viewers. Often times it's as simple as putting the long telephoto away, and reaching for a wide angle lens. Immediately, the photo becomes something "else". Suddenly we are looking at birds in a new way. Rather than the typical bird closeup, we are drawn into the photo in a search for the subject. When this's mission accomplished.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Compositional Bird Photography

click on photo to enlarge

For those of you who are regular visitors to my blog, you have certainly picked up on the fact that my bird photos are different from most of those you have seen before. Unlike many bird photographers, my shots rarely single out the bird as the main, if not only subject of the photo. Instead, my images are much more about an environment containing a bird, than just the bird itself. My goal has always been to exhibit photos that raise the question, "Is this picture about the bird, or is it about the habitat in which the bird resides?" In composing my shots, it is that question that is always at the forefront of my thinking. It's the question that I ask of myself, and that I hope the viewer is also asking of him or her self in viewing my photos. If photography is to truly be an art form, I feel that images must provoke the viewer to ask questions of the image. Where is this place? Why did the subject choose this place to perch or feed? Why does my eye follow the subject within the frame? Where is the light source coming from in this image? How did the photographer manage to capture the image? Why did the photographer choose this particular frame to print?

I think photography earns its' place in the art world, when it goes beyond simply recording a moment in time. I believe a photographer enters the world of fine art, when his images provoke discussion and create some degree of controversy. I continue to work everyday to keep my work aimed at those standards.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bluebirds in the Neighborhood

It's a wonderful thing to be able to look out into the backyard and see Bluebirds flitting about. The flash of their bright blue feathers is always a welcome sight. This summer, here in southeast Tennessee, we have had an abundance of Eastern Bluebirds, which is refreshing after four years in a row with very few. None of us seems to have any real explanation for this years' increased numbers, but we're thrilled to have them.

Needless to say, their presence has been wonderful for this bird photographer. Not only are they here in large numbers, but they seem much more approachable this season than any I can recall. With minimal effort on my part, I have been able to get dozens of photos that meet my personal standards for genuine fine art photography. It's been a real joy, and I am grateful for the time I have had with these remarkable little birds.

My resident backyard pair is now working on their second hatching, and it looks like this year we'll certainly see at least three nestings. Even with the extremely hot conditions, this pair of birds seems determined to reproduce as many young as the season will permit. For me, that means more photo opportunities, so check back with us often and I'll continue to share this adventure.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Secret to Locating Birds

I get ask all the time, "How do you find so many birds in those interesting places?" Well, it really isn't that difficult if you take the time to learn about birds, and you're willing to spend lots of time in the field. Like so many things in life, it pays to know your subject well. In that regard, I have spend most of my life studying birds and paying attention to their habits. The knowledge that I have gained from this endeavor has made my job so much easier, and so much more enjoyable. I love what I do, and I love the time I spend with the birds.

Knowing where and when birds feed is key to my success as a bird photographer. I spend as much time looking for food sources as I do searching for birds. Finding locations where birds like to feed is critical to successfully capturing the kind of images I want. Knowing when birds are most likely to feed is another piece of the puzzle that aides me in my quest. Birds tend to feed more in the early mornings and late afternoons than any other time of day. Concentrating on those times is much more productive. Immediately following a thundershower you can find increased bird activity, and that can mean finding great shots.

You can waist so much time looking for birds, but if you think about food sources and feeding behaviors you can greatly increase your own odds of making some great shots.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Nature Photography.......With elements of Man

Click on photos to enlarge

Many years ago, actually much longer that I care to remember, I read an article by one of the nation's top nature photographers. In that article, he made this statement, "Nature photos must never show the hand of man." Like many nature and wildlife photographers, the author believed that true nature photography should not contain anything that would show the presence of man. I think that may well be a mantra of many photographers today, but it is not one that I believe has any meaning for me.

We live in a world that is becoming increasingly populated everyday, and the "hand of man" is certainly a part of our everyday lives. I believe that nature photos should show us all of the story, not just the most pristine elements of the natural world. I believe that as we adapt to our surroundings, so do our animal and plant friends. Excluding images that show us mans encroachment upon nature would be like showing us only pictures of farmers and not of people living in major metropolitan cities. People have adapted and so has the animal kingdom. Granted, we still like to see "animals in the wild", but I think we need to see animals living connected to man as well.

With that thought in mind, I love to capture images that use objects created by man to highlight my wildlife subjects. Rather than detract from the image, I often feel they can add interest to a photograph. I think they can dramatically enhance a compositional element, and make a connection between the wild subject and the viewer. In this regard, I think we bring the viewer closer to our subject and make the image relate to a wider audience.

There will, of course, always be those who feel that man has no place in a nature photo, but my personal belief is that man is just one more species living on this planet we call earth. We are just as much wildlife as any other species, and we can learn so much from observing the natural world around us, and all the elements included in that world.

Click on Photos to enlarge.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Making Directional-lighting Work for You

I am always disappointed with images that look flat. Images captured without some kind of directional lighting leave me wanting more, and I rarely even bother firing the shutter when I don't feel some kind of emotional response to my light source. Photography is all about capturing a subject in some kind of meaningful, if not magical, lighting situation.

When it comes to bird photography, we are working with soft little round subjects that really need to be lit in some special way that will enhance the natural form and texture of the bird. Without this kind of lighting, our subjects can easily be lost into the backgrounds. While my photos very often try to make the surroundings just as important as the bird, I still want my birds to be focal points within the photo. To make that happen, I need lighting that brings the viewers eye to the soft feathers of my main subject.

Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I just can't make an image pop. If I don't have the lighting I need, I know my image is going to be disappointing, and I might just as well not shoot. Yes, we have the ability to do so much now in post-processing, but nothing can replace the impact of original lighting. There is just no denying that truly great photos are all about light. I hope all of us can keep that in mind as we struggle to make those magical images we dream about.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Research and Planning the Shot

For many years, I carried my camera around looking for great shots. Then one day I discovered that I had a new skill .........I could design a shot........I could anticipate a shot.........I could wait for a shot..........I could allow my vision to be realized on film, and that was the day that I became a photographer. After years of hoping for the shot, I discovered that I could scout a location and make plans for a shot that was pre-visualized in my mind. From that point on my images took on a new sense of passion, and the excitement for me as a photographer grew immensely.

This shot of Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge was taken at dawn, after making several previous trips

to the refuge without any meaningful images. The location drew me over and over again, but my timing was never right. It seems like something always managed to prevent me from getting the shot I wanted. Then, one evening while sitting in my hotel, I saw an image in my mind of what I wanted from this location. I asked myself, "What would you do if you were painting this scene?" Instantly, I began composing an image in my mind of what my painting would look like and asking myself how I could get it in the camera. I knew the light was the key, and that sunrise was going to be my best chance of capturing the birds in the rookery. That meant getting on location early and using a small portable blind. While still dark, I hiked into the marsh, set up my blind and waited. As daybreak came, so did my shot. Perhaps not exactly as I had pictured it in my mind, but very close.......and maybe even better.

My images today are not usually "by chance." Rather, most of them are well thought-out and planned. In doing so, I make myself aware of light and of composition. I place myself in a ready position that is going to give me the scene I want, and I wait for the light. Sometimes I get to click the shutter, but so many times I simply enjoy the morning without getting the shot. Not every outing has to produce a winner. Sometimes it's enough to just enjoy what's in front of you.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Now you see it.....Now you don't !

Photography is one of those things that just never seems to disappoint me. No matter what kind of a day it is you can always manage to go out and find something of interest to shoot. But over the years, I have learned that by going out everyday, I find the unexpected. It's the excitement of seeing that special something that you have yet to photograph that makes the day special.

Here in east Tennessee, we are so fortunate to have so many beautiful waterfalls surrounding us. But what lots of people do not know is that after a few days of heavy rain, we can have dozens of new falls appearing overnight. Hiking one of the trails on any given day you might see two or three memorable waterfalls, but hiking that same trail after the rains and you might very well see dozens of equally memorable falls. Locals know that by hiking after the rains have come is the most exciting time of all. Clearly, one needs to be careful as the water in the streams rises, but if you love to see waterfalls, this is the time to get out on the trail.

The three waterfalls pictured above were photographed this morning, after a night of heavy rains. I had traveled this same path just two days ago and none of these fall existed. Without the rains and the resulting runoff, these incredible beauties disappear back into the landscape. The smart photographer is the one who knows when to hit the trail and capture those magical moments that we all love to see. I would encourage everyone to turn those televisions off and go out and see what you and your families can discover together. There's a world out there that is waiting for you and your camera.

Remember to click on each photo to see it enlarged.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Unexpected Subjects

I've learned over the years that my best plans can often go out the window, but that sometimes another opportunity will fall into its' place. On this day, I headed out looking for wading birds in Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge in southeast Georgia. In the past, I have found this time of year to be perfect for the nesting herons and egrets. However, this year the nesting has not started, and I found the refuge empty. Disappointed by the lack of birds, I decided to hike a couple of the walking trails and see what I might discover. Much to my surprise, I found myself face to face with this Rat Snake. For some unknown reason, the snake was very agressive, and actually decide to charge at me on several occassions. When he finally gave up on the attack strategy, he decided to climb the nearest tree, which gave me a wonderful photographic opportunity. The lesson here is to simply keep your eyes open and jump on every opportunity that presents itself. The unexpected can often be the most interesting subject.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Birds in Winter

I've always been amazed by how many of my photographer friends put their gear away during the winter months. I so often hear, "Well, there's just nothing interesting to shoot in the winter." I also hear, "There's just not much color in the winter. Scenes are so drab." This couldn't be farther from the truth. Not only are the subjects prevalent, but many are easier to approach during the colder months.

For me, much of my work is about composition and light, and the winter season has plenty of both. Granted, the colorful flowers may be gone, and the grass and leaves are no longer green, but the sky is blue and the sunlight of winter can be magical. The winter is the time to sharpen your compositional skills and to look at subjects with a new vision. Without the focus on color, one can truly explore the relationship between subject and light. I have always felt that photographers can do more to sharpen their skills during the winter months that perhaps any other time of the year. The lack of so much color in the landscape forces one to look elsewhere for subjects, and it demands perfection in the execution of a photo. Winter shooting raises the bar on what constitutes a great shot. Winter photos can clear the clutter from your images and bring a remarkable pleasing simplicity to your images.

Here's a couple of hints for shooting in winter. First, recognize the fact that winter lighting can often be harsh. A polarizing filter can be a useful accessory. Secondly, snow can be a challenge for proper exposure. I generally open the lens a full stop to open up shadows that are so often lost in snow scenes. So.......grab your gear......get off the sofa........and go outside and shoot. Good Luck.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Landscape Light

Although I spend the vast majority of my time photographing birds, I do occasionally like to see what I can do with some Landscapes. I do not consider myself to be a true landscape photographer, but I enjoy the challenge of a good composition and the capture of meaningful photographic lighting. In my opinion, far too much landscape shooting is about subject and little about lighting. I believe that the most important element of any photo is the lighting that is captured, even more important than the subject itself. Granted, their are hordes of folks who would argue that point, but for me personally, it's all about the light, without which I feel a photo is worthless. What separates one from the masses is his or her ability to wait for the perfect light, and to pass on images where the light falls short. Good photographers, indeed, great photographers seek out and wait for the magic moment when light turns the landscape into a painting. Only then do you have an image deserving of the click of the shutter.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

What Makes "Fine Art" Photography

Photographers have struggled with the question of why some photos seem to be accepted within the fine art world, and so many others are not. The world of fine art has, until recently, managed to lock the door to photographers, but that is changing. Today's photographers are simply producing images that not only unlock that door, but have exploded the door off its' hinges.
Galleries and collectors alike are now welcoming the photographic genre into the club of fine art.
So, why is the door remaining closed to so many photographers? Why are so many photographers frustrated by the rejection they feel from the art community? Is the world of art still closed to the medium of photography, or could it be that it is just more demanding of excellence? I would argue the latter. Like painters and sculptors, not all photographers warrant admission to the club. Sadly, the world of photography is now overrun with folks who have the resources to purchase the very best of photographic equipment, but lack any of the skills to create meaningful photo images. Far to many, some who have been very successful in other endeavors, seem to think they can now move into photography and make their mark on the art world. While it may have taken these folks years to achieve a level of success in the business world, these same folks seem to feel they can shoot some photos, exhibit them at local art shows, and then magically be recognized as "fine art photographers." This line of thinking continues to amaze me. After over 30 years in the business, I still use everyday of shooting as a way of growing.
Photography is so much more than taking a picture. My studies have not been concentrated on photographic technique. That is something that is easily learned, and requires little thought. Instead, my focus has always been on what makes an image special. What makes a strong composition? What role should light play in this singular image? Can a different angle make for a better image, or can a lens choice change the way one sees the image? Can my eye see the image in multiple ways? Can I see the image before me in print? Would I want this image on my wall? All questions that must be answered before the shutter is clicked, but ignored by so many new to the photo world.
Fine Art Photography.........I think it is earned.......not learned. I believe it is limited to those who were born with a gift, and who have chosen to develop that gift, and I believe that those of us who have the joy of earning our living as professional photographers are the luckiest people on the planet.