Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Judging the Quality of Light

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     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 light...it'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.......an 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

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       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 !

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       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

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      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.