Saturday, August 18, 2012

Using HDR for Tough Exposures

        Digital photography has changed the way we now think about exposure. It's no longer accepted to simply think about shutter speed and f-stop to make a perfect photographic exposure. The restrictions of the old film days are gone, and they have been replaced with all  sorts of new ways to arrive at a well  exposed image. Latest developments in imaging software have made it possible to get images that would have been difficult and sometimes impossible with film.
       This image was taken last evening here on  the lake. This time of year we have lots of weed growth occurring across the lake, and it's a huge draw to our waterbirds, who find an endless food source amongst the weeds. Simply by walking through the weeds, waterbirds can find a feast of frogs and small fish. I am drawn to the same weeds because of the way water and light play against this background. Add a sunset or sunrise to the mix, and you can see some amazing photos unfold before your eyes.
      The Great Blue Heron has always been one of my favorite subjects, but this heron presented a unique photographic situation. Back lighting can be tough, and sometimes just impossible. Over the years I have passed on so many shots, because I knew the results would be ultimately disappointing. Today, however,  I never pass up shots like this one. Using some of the tricks in my digital bag of goodies, I know that double processing a raw file can mean getting the shot you see in your lens. Unrestricted by the finality of film, I can over expose one file, while  underexposing another. By combining the two exposures, I can arrive at a perfectly exposed image. Oh....I do love digital imaging!
      All of the arguments about film vs. digital seem to have gone the way of the 8 track players. We have embraced the digital world, and we're better for least when it comes to getting great exposures.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Finding the Action..........and Getting the Shot

      Last weekend I had the privilege of exhibiting my photos in Myrtle Beach, S.C.. About 20,000 people attended the event, and it was wonderful to see the reaction of the public to my newest images. I have always felt that artists, regardless of their chosen medium, need to get their work in front of the public in order to receive genuine feedback. While that can be tough at times, it is one of the very best ways to truly grow as an artist.
     Every time I do one of these exhibitions, I am ask just how I find these subjects, and where do I have to travel in order to capture my photos. The assumption is that beautiful wildlife subjects must surely live in remote locales. But, that just couldn't be further from the truth. In reality, incredibly interesting subjects can be found all around us.....regardless of where we are located. We only need to open our eyes to the possibilities of what lies just outside the door.
     The photograph above is an example of what I mean. In the midst of my busy weekend in Myrtle Beach, I decided to have a look around. The massive convention center, where my exhibit was being hosted, was surrounded by acres of paved parking lots. It was your typical urban setting of office buildings and parking garages. However, directly in the front of the building I noticed a beautifully landscaped garden filled with brilliant red Hibiscus plants. I took note of the location of the sun, and I quickly calculated in which direction the sun would rise the following morning.
      The next day I arrived at the location of the garden just after sunrise and quickly began scouting the landscape, taking care to look for a water source. I have learned over the years that most of these kinds of gardens have automatic sprinkler systems that activate early in the day. My years spent photographing hummingbirds has taught me that they do much the same. They love an early morning spritz in the water, and they can't resist red flowers. The location seemed to have all of the elements I needed, and best of all the annual fall hummingbird migration was just getting underway. I felt my chances were good, although I don't always find it all works as well as I might wish.
       This time, however, all of the elements came together, and I managed to capture several nice images of the newly arriving hummingbirds. Rarely do shots like the one above just simply happen. As with so many things, knowledge of your subject can be your best friend. Checking the light and preparing your gear can be equally important, but getting out there and pushing yourself to make it happen is your answer to great photos. I'd love to hear what you think, and how you approach your own work. Have some fun.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Golden Light.....the Sunrise Version

       Light is a subject that I never grow weary of discussing, as it can determine so much of the success or the failure of a photograph. I captured the image above earlier this month, while visiting one of the few remaining plantations in southern Georgia. This old weathered wooden door was being used as a decorative piece in one of the many floral gardens, and this Robin decided to nest in the attached basket. While that alone would have drawn me to make a photo, it was the golden light of sunrise that turned the photo into something special. The intensity of the sunrise light made the door glow as though it had been painted gold. The low angle of the light cast a shadow from both the bird and the basket onto the peeling paint of the old door, which gave the image some much needed depth to what might otherwise have been a very flat image. Adding to the mix, the soft orange hue of the Robin's breast feathers completed the transition from the weathered door to the wildlife subject.
       I really love capturing images that include the elements of man, while respecting the focus on wildlife. I know for many,  I am breaking some basic rules of "Wildlife Photography", but I never was one for following the rules. I hope you all enjoy this image, as I can't wait to print it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Judging the Quality of Light

Click on image to enlarge

     Long before I became interested in photography, I had a love of fine art painting. Unlike most kids growing up in the farmlands of central Illinois, I would rather look at picture books filled with paintings than to go outside and play baseball. I can assure you that was considered more than a little strange in my childhood world, but it was just the way it happened for me. Early on....I had a love affair with art, and especially with painters.
     It always amazed me how someone could take a piece of canvas and some paint, close their eyes to a vision of the mind, and then create that vision in the form of a painting. Impressive for sure, but the truly gifted artists could paint light.....yes real light, and they could dictate the quality of light in a way that made their work believable. Throughout history artists have faced the challenge of's direction, it's color, it's intensity, and so much more.
    As I became a photographer, I have carried so many of those early images in my mind, and I have struggled to conquer light in the same way as painters have done over the centuries. So much of what we do as photographers is dependent up the light in front of us. We can accept it for what it is, or  we can use filters to manipulate it as we would like it to be. We can carefully select compositions that use the light in varying ways, or we can sit tight and just wait for the light to change..... perhaps brighter, perhaps softer, perhaps newly filtered by passing clouds.  We can become painterly with our images by taking note of the light, and by giving it the respect it deserves.
     Searching out light that brings mood into our photographs is incredibly important. It is often what moves a photo from just a snapshot to a real  work of art. While today's high tech camera equipment can give us many advantages, it is no replacement for a trained eye that recognizes special light and then uses it to produce images worthy of our efforts.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Camouflage.......Often a Photographers' Dream

      My thirty five years as a bird photographer have taught me all sorts of interesting things about birds and their behavior. Much of the success I have achieved with my photos has come more from my intimate knowledge of birds than from my knowledge of photography. While I consider myself to be a pretty decent photographer, I pride myself in the fact that I have spent a lifetime studying birds. It's this continual study and observation that has allowed me to be in the "right spot" so often, and to capture the kind of images that I find so personally satisfying.
      Surprising to many is the fact that birds are frequently predictable. They like  to feed during certain hours of the day, rest a certain times of the day, and even bathe at given times of the day. Different species have different dietary needs,  and so while some love seeds,  others like bugs or worms. While some species like to keep their nest sites hidden,  others are more likely to build in open spaces. Species like Bluebirds are cavity nesters, while Great Blue Herons build huge nests in rookeries in tall trees or brush.
      Knowledge is,  indeed,  power! For the photographer, knowledge of your subject is the single most important aspect of your success. Regardless of what you choose to photograph, spending the time to increase your personal knowledge of your subject will pay dividends ten fold.
      In the photo above, it was important to know that a female nesting Cardinal only gets a small window of time to feed herself before having to return to the nest. She is especially cautious at this time, as she does not want to attract attention to her nest and risk a predator. Observation has taught me that she is going to stay close by, and she is going to use camouflage as her weapon against detection of her nesting site. She has to feed quickly,  and she needs additional protein during this important time. Nothing better for her than a forest bottom with lots of moisture, where she can quickly gather worms and small grubs. When a bird locates this kind of feeding spot, they will often use it over and over again. I noticed this female Cardinal returning to this log several times, and so I prepared myself for her next return. Several hours passed.....but then she gave me the shot.
      Knowledge is important. It does not guarantee success, but it will increase your percentage of shots. Combining subject knowledge with  time in the field will make you a better photographer. I guarantee it!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

We Can Make a Difference......Really

click on  image to enlarge

       As a species, humans have been incredibly invasive,  as we have spread our population throughout the world and destroyed habitat that is so very valuable to other species trying to live on this planet. Millions of acres of land have been cleared so that we can build homes and shopping malls. Our need for space has meant less space for so many others. Wildlife has suffered, and I think we have suffered too at the loss of so many other species. Even those that remain, struggle everyday to adapt to our latest and greatest needs.
      Fortunately,  some of us feel a need to give back. In my area of the country,  local government has decided to begin a program of planting for wildlife. Not so they can be hunted, but so they can survive and perhaps even thrive. This spring the State of Tennessee and many local counties began seeding unused acreage with million of wildflowers. Not only has it made the state more beautiful, but it's providing pollen for the bees and hummingbirds, and food for so many other species. Our tax dollars are making a real difference for wildlife, and we all feel good about doing it.
      You don't have to wait for government to start in your area. Begin with your own plot of flowers. Not only will  you enjoy the beauty it brings,  but you'll soon enjoy the wildlife  that it attracts. I'm  doing my part, and I hope you will join me in making a difference. All  of us working together can truly make life better for our wildlife neighbors.

Trust Me.......Bigger is Better !

click on image to enlarge

       When it comes to steaks, ice cream sundaes, and cameras.......I like them big. When it comes to my camera, that means I like a full-frame sensor with as many megapixels as I can get, because that translates into bigger, sharper, and more detailed images,  assuming I use good technique and pay close attention to my subject.
      It also means I have some options available to me after I take the shot. With an image file in excess of 60+ megabites, I can do some cropping of the image and still have plenty of data to create a large fine art print. It means I can exercise my artistic talents in deciding just how I want the final image to appear. That translates into a huge advantage to a photographer, and one that I might not have with a small sensor in my camera. Because I make my living as a fine art photographer, I want all of the options I can have in producing my final images.
       Above I have taken one of my shots of a field of wildflowers, and I have played around with cropping the image in several different ways. I, of course, have the final say in which one is going to become the final image, but each of the crops offers something a little  different to the viewer. Your choice may well  be different from mine, and that's great. The important thing here is to simply recognize that we have lots of options to play with after the shutter has been fired. I like to encourage young photographers to explore different perspectives and views of a subject. Don't lock  yourself into your first choice in how you see a subject. Even after you may have shot dozens of images, you still have the opportunity to crop the image, and therefore  see it in an entirely different way. Give  it a try, and I think  you might just be surprised with how an old shot can be reborn.
      Finally,  for those  interested, I am currently shooting with a Canon 5D mkll and a Sony A900. Both cameras are full-framed sensors in excess of 21 megapixels. I shoot all of my images in RAW format, and process the files in Adobe Lightroom 3.6.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Hummingbird Season Once Again

click on image to enlarge

      Every year I look forward to the return of Hummingbirds into my gardens. They bring an incredible allure and source of endless entertainment to my summer evenings. I love sitting in the garden with a nice glass of wine, while I try to capture the action with my camera. Needless to say, these little feathered jewels are incredibly difficult to photograph, but I think that may well be the attraction to them. I love putting my skills as a photographer up against their speed and agility. Every time I capture an image of one of these magnificent little birds, I get a genuine sense of accomplishment. The challenge for me, however, is to get an image that does justice to these very special birds. I hope you'll enjoy these photos and look for these birds in your own garden. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bluebirds in Spring

     I love this time of year, as the colors and sounds of Spring fill the senses. Most of all, I love the Bluebirds that choose my yard to raise their young. With several bluebird boxes placed around the yard, I seem to attract lots of "takers", as they carefully select which of the boxes will best fit their needs. It's really the highlight of my year when these beautiful little birds pick my garden as their home.

     This year we have two very active nesting pairs, that are just beginning their second family of the season. As a bird photographer, I relish the opportunity to focus my lens on these dramatic spots of blue that flit about the yard, often with mouths filled with insect food for their little ones. It continues to astound me just how many insects these birds can capture everyday. Once the feeding starts, it is nonstop for several days. Momma arrives with a bug, followed by Dad with a moth. On and on it goes until the little ones are ready to enter the world of flight. For those of us who are lucky enough to witness that day, it is a magical experience to be cherished. Every year I feel like one of the luckiest guys on the planet. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Early Morning in the Marsh

click on image to enlarge

      I love photographing early in the morning. I mean.....really early,  often setting out in the darkness of night and waiting for the first light of the day to arrive.  Seeing nature, as she awakens for a new day, is a religious experience for me. As the sounds of the night turn slowly into the sounds of the morning, I find myself excited by the possibilities of the new day.  While sitting on location in the darkness before dawn, I never know what light is going to present in front of me. Will  the sky be filled with clouds and color, or  will the fog blanket the morning with its' mysterious allure? The first hours of the day can be the most exciting of the day, and certainly the most productive for a photographer.
     I recently spent a few days in Savannah visiting the Savannah Wildlife Refuge, which is one of my very favorite shooting locations. I seem to never be disappointed with the opportunities I find there. Whether it be summer, or the dead of winter, this refuge consistently provides a wealth of photographic  subjects. Although I am considered a bird photographer, I love the opportunity to capture landscape shots, which enhance my avian images. Thanks to the "wildlife drive" that meanders through the refuge, I'm able to cover lots of ground and even do some shooting from within my own vehicle. On the coldest of winter mornings, this can be a real asset to any shooter.

      We're all very fortunate in this country to have an amazing network of National Wildlife Refuges. These refuges offer all of us the opportunity to get out and see nature in a way that we cannot from the confines of our homes. No movie or TV show can really show you the beauty of nature. You need to be there to really feel the experience. I want to encourage all  of you to visit a refuge near you, and to discover for yourself what secrets it holds. The challenge, of course, is to capture those secrets in your photographic images. Push yourself to become a part of nature, not just a spectator. Good luck and share your images with the rest of us.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Finding Some Color in the Midst of Winter

click on image to enlarge

     For many of us, winter can be a difficult time to find the sort of images we like to add to our photographic portfolios. But, over the years, I've learned to approach the winter months with an eye that focuses more on color,  than on only content. The flowers of summer are all gone, and the colored leaves of the fall season have long since fallen, but the environment around us is still dotted with wonderful color and hues. The truth is that color photographs are just that.....Color. Unless you're into black and white photography, you and I need some degree of color to make  our photos interesting and compelling to our viewers. However, that can be a daunting task during the winter season.

     As this winter began, I had set my sights on SNOW. My plan was to attack the season with wonderful images of Cardinals in the snow, and long horned bucks standing amidst the snow covered pines. In my mind, I had settled on my images for this winter, but as luck would have it, no snow. None ! So, I had to find another path to my winter photographs, and it wasn't going to involve a snowmobile or sled. 

     I happen to be one of those photographers, who uses previsualization to achieve my end goal. I see an image in my mind first, and then I begin planning just how I am going to get that image into the lens. For me, that involves lots of scouting locations, and studying light conditions and how the light is going to play on my subject. Often that means visiting the same location several times, but at different times of the day. It is critical for me to know in advance just how the light is going to hit, and therefore effect my subject. I can't stress enough the importance of gathering lots of information concerning your location before you attempt your photo session.

     The photo of the Pine Warbler pictured above was taken a few days ago, after observing the light from a previous trek into the woods near my home. On several occasions, I found myself drawn to the play of light on these rocks, and how the light brought out the colors of the lichens growing on their surface. For was a subject that had to be photographed......but it needed something.

     So, a few days ago I revisited the sight and covered the rocks and the ground with bird seed. LOT' S OF BIRD SEED.  I quickly found that I had attracted a large variety of species to the sight, and suddenly had what I needed to add the interest to the rocks and complete my vision for the photograph. All in all, I am pleased with the resulting image, as it closely matches what I had envisioned in the weeks prior. Good photographs rarely happen by chance. Most of those are Snapshots.......they are not meaningful photographic images. My favorite photographers do not rely on chance encounters. They plan their outings carefully,  sometimes researching an area for months or years before investing their time and money on a shoot. In the end, this kind of effort is rewarded in one's images. I hope this will encourage all of you to work at becoming better photographers. It's not the's the eye behind the lens that makes art.