Once again, it is time to review the photographs made this year, and select my favorites. We have been doing this for the past several years, and I look forward to it every year. This year, I started with over 50 photos, and after making several passes through the collection, and making some tough decisions, I selected the 10 photographs that gave me the most joy and satisfaction when I made them, and continue to do so now. Here are my Favorites for 2017, in roughly chronological order… Continue reading
Two years ago, at dawn on a cold December morning, I visited Natural Dam and made one of my favorite photographs ever. There was a fog rising from the water, and the sun was just about to rise, and the fog glowed in the pre-dawn light.
This was the first photo I made that morning, and after I tried some different compositions and exposures, I moved on to different locations around the waterfall. This is my normal approach – to look at a scene, and to explore different viewpoints. Eventually, I saw this scene… Continue reading
Building the Nest
Great Egrets, High Island Sanctuaries
For many years, we traveled to the Upper Gulf Coast of Texas in the spring. We would visit Brazos Bend State Park, Galveston Island, Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, Bolivar Island, and High Island. Spring is breeding season for birds, alligators, and many other creatures. In 2007, we timed our visit quite well, and were able to photograph several animal species in prime breeding plumage and nest building, including alligators’
East of Galveston is the small community called High Island. It is not an island, but sits on a “salt dome”, 38 feet above sea level. (This is the highest point above sea level on the Gulf Coast from Mobile, Alabama, to the Yucatan.) The Houston Audubon Society operates a bird sanctuary within the community, and is a popular destination for birders and birdwatchers from all over the world.
Within the Smith Oaks Sanctuary, is Claybottom Pond – home to a bird rookery. Species nesting there include Cormorants, Night Herons, Tri-colored herons, Roseate spoonbills, and more. The rookery is on a small island at a perfect distance for photographing and watching the birds. If you want to know more about the rookery, and all of the High Island Sanctuary, here is a link to Houston Audubon’s site.
Today’s photograph was made late in the afternoon, with the sun behind us. This pair was early in the nest building stage, as most of the other birds were well into the season, with eggs laid already. The male came flying in with nesting material (tree branches and sticks) to add to the structure, and as he landed and gave the stick to his mate, his wing spread in a gesture that appeared to be protective, supportive, warm, and nurturing.
I was using a Sony Alpha 100 DSLR Camera, with a Tamron 300mm f/2.8 lens and a matching 2x teleconverter, making the lens 600 mm. Shutter speed was 1/800, ISO 200, and aperture of f/8. Today, I would not hesitate to shoot at an ISO of 800, maybe higher, resulting in a much faster shutter speed. The photo would be sharper… but, the point of the image, its mood, and the story, still is clear, and speaks of companionship, teamwork, family, and love.
This photo, #5 in this series, is about capturing a moment, and sharing a story, regardless of technical perfection. The original image suffers from camera movement blur. Today, we can edit the photo in Photoshop, and apply shake reduction sharpening, and at the least, improve the sharpness of the image. And, that was done with this photo. But, was it necessary? Does it now tell a better story? I believe photography is about capturing a moment, about telling a story, and sharing that moment and the story. If the story is clear, and if you see the moment, and if you feel the passion of the photographer, does that not make it a good photograph? Would like to hear your opinion!
“Capturing a beautiful moment in a photo is something I’m very passionate about.” ~Nigel Barker
Until next time … wishing you good light!
Image 00842, date 2007
Years ago, I saw my first image of water drops refracting a background flower, probably in Outdoor Photographer magazine. I was fascinated, and began the pursuit of my own water drop reflection photos…
Occasionally, I am asked if the photos are real or if I created them in the computer. Signs of the times, I guess. These are 100% “real.” The water drops are from dew, occasionally rain, and the reflected image (“refracted”, actually) is just as I saw it.
This morning was bright, sunny, and humid at Cherokee Prairie Natural Area, but with a slight breeze, so I needed to keep the shutter speed up and still shoot at f/16. However, the photo was dark – very underexposed. I either misread the meter’s suggestion or ignored it, or the camera erred, and underexposed the image. The problem probably was not the camera. So, I adjusted exposure and made another photo, then moved on to another composition.
Later, in post-processing, when I looked on the computer, that second photo was blurred – that pesky breeze. My first thought was that I had blown the shot; one was blurry, and the other was underexposed. And, I had only made 2 photos…
I opened the first image, the dark one, in PaintShop Pro and increased overall exposure of the RAW file by two stops. It was amazing – the Sony .ARW image was beautiful! It held up really well to being lightened. (For comparison, I tried the same adjustment on the camera’s jpeg version, and it was not pretty…) I have always shot RAW ever since.
Over the years, I have made a good number of water drop photos like this, but “Paintbrush Reflections” is still one of my favorites. Just the same, I look forward to wildflower season, and more attempts to make the perfect image.
May we all continue to look for great light!
Great Blue Heron Flying Across the Arkansas River, Slide file 10039, date 1989
Location: Citadel Bluff Park, near Cecil, Arkansas
Of all the photos I have made, this one fills a special place in my memory. The moment, the location, and the image all added up to make it one of the best photos I had made at that time…
In the 1980’s and 90’s, I often visited Citadel Bluff Park and Campground on the Arkansas River, just outside the small community of Cecil, hoping to see bald eagles – and frequently I did. A trail led from the end of the campground, through the woods, and along the river. However, no matter how quietly I approached, wildlife knew when I was there…
On this cool but pleasant winter morning, the Great Blue Heron flew when I got too close, sounding its blood-curdling alarm call. A grove of cane blocked my view, but I pushed through and saw the heron flying away. I had learned the hard way to preset the camera, but I still only had time for two photographs: the one you see here, and a second one with its wings in the downbeat.
Is it a good photo? I like it; but, for me, there is more: the image includes the sounds of the breeze in the trees and the river lapping on the bank, the smell of the forest, and the breathtaking flight of the heron. There’s nothing else there but the Arkansas River, with its own reflected image of the heron, and small ripples in the current…
Some tech stuff, as I remember it: Minolta Maxxum 7000 camera, a Sigma 400mm f/5.6 lens, and Kodachrome 64 film. (Yes, film.) Settings were probably f/5.6, at 1/500 sec shutter speed. I frequently set the camera ISO to 80, so as to underexpose the film and add saturation to the colors.
Oh – we have since incorporated the heron’s image into our logo:
In closing… this is the first post in a series. Would love to hear your thoughts about my little story, and if you have a photo that means something similar to you, we would love to hear about that, too! 🙂
Despite the fact that Arkansas’ River Valley has had a dry year, it seemed that every time I planned a star photography outing – there were clouds.
And, this trend included our Night Photography Workshop in August. We tried 3 times, before we finally had a marvelously clear night to see and photograph the Milky Way.
Same location – Shores Lake – but no significant clouds! 🙂 To add a little foreground interest, I set up my film camera to photograph the stars streaking across the sky, aka “star trails.”
If you live in an area with little light pollution, you may wonder what’s the big deal. However, for those of us who live in an urban area, it is a rare treat! Some of the photographers in our workshop had not seen the Milky Way since childhood. Seeing it and making photographs was very exciting!
Would you like to photograph the Milky Way? Here are 5 things I think you need:
- A DSLR camera, because shooting in manual exposure mode and manual focus mode, and at a high ISO is necessary. Very few compact cameras have all those functions.
- A wide angle lens. How wide? My preference is a 24mm for a “full-frame” sensor, but up to a 35mm will work. If you have an APS-C sensor, sometimes called a “crop-sensor,” 18mm to 24mm is the equivalent. That does not mean that we cannot use even wider! Many photographers use a 14mm, 16mm or an 18mm, and sometimes a fish-eye.
- A Good tripod. Shutter speeds will be measured in seconds, and no one I know can hold a camera steady for that long. Your tripod will need to be solid, and easy to adjust in the dark. I recommend a carbon fiber or aluminum tripod, with a ball head.
- A remote control for firing your camera. Pressing the shutter button will cause your camera to move, so use a remote cable or wireless remote.
- A headlamp or flashlight with a red lens. Without the red lens, your night vision will be compromised each time you turn on the light.
Also helpful: an app on your phone. “Photo Pills” and “The Photographers’ Ephemeris” will provide photographers where and when information – I like and use both. I also like “Star Guide” which does just what it says – displays on screen where and when the stars are.
Once you have the equipment, the techniques we use are different from most other types of photography:
- Locate an area with a probable good view of the Milky Way. Helpful web sites: www.cleardarksky.com, www.darksitefinder.com, and Google Maps www.google.com/maps.
- Check the moon phases – a full moon is so bright you cannot see the Milky Way. A crescent moon is also bright enough to interfere, although if it sets early, the light – coming from the opposite direction of the Milky Way – can be helpful by lighting up the foreground.
- Camera settings: Start at ISO 3200, a shutter speed of 15 seconds, and your aperture at its widest. Make a test shot, check your image exposure, and adjust as necessary. It is not uncommon to set ISO at 4000 or higher. (Note: to calculate the longest usable shutter speed, divide 500 by your lens focal length. Example: with a 24mm lens, 500 divided by 24 = 20.83, so you would keep your shutter open no longer than 20 seconds.) A too-long shutter speed results in trailing stars, not points of light.
- Focusing can be difficult. We tried to use autofocus before dark, then switched to manual focus. We also applied gaffer tape to the focus ring to avoid accidentally bumping and moving it. If you need to focus after dark, try using “live view” and magnify the display. (Practice this before dark!) The good thing about digital photography, of course, is we can see what we shot, then adjust and reshoot if necessary.
The end result can be very rewarding photos. And, watching the Milky Way – and other stars and constellations – begin to appear after the sun goes down is exciting and breathtaking! Especially the first time…
The “season” is about done for this year; during the winter months, the Milky Way is not visible. When it is most visible is late spring to late summer. (I can hardly wait!) The apps I referenced earlier are great for helping us plan. Feel free to contact me if you have questions – or search the internet for more information.
Wishing you good light!
Selecting favorite photos from the past 12 months is a fun exercise, and also an opportunity to see where my interests have taken me. And, sometimes a way to measure one’s growth. Mostly, however, these are the photographs that bring a smile to my face when I remember pressing the shutter release…
So, here we go, roughly in chronological order:
This is one of my favorite flowers, as it is one of the first signs of spring in Arkansas. This one reminds me of a sea creature…
Devil’s Den State Park, Arkansas
After a short hike on the Devil’s Den Trail, you will find yourself at Twin Falls – unless it is the dry season. This is the west falls, with photographer for scale…
Wild Rose, Cherokee Prairie
Cherokee Prairie, near Charleston, Arkansas, continues to be one of those locations I return to regularly. This wild rose was past its prime, but I liked the patterns, color, symmetry, and its friend. I hope you notice the antenna that mimics the flower petal lines…
Colorado National Monument
In June, I traveled to the Eastern Sierras of California to attend Derrick Story’s photography workshop. (You can read about it here.) The road trip included a one-night stop at the Colorado National Monument, near Grand Junction, Colorado. I would definitely camp there again.
Great Basin National Park
From Colorado, my next stop was Great Basin National Park in eastern Nevada, home to 13,063-foot Mount Wheeler. This mountain stream was near my campsite…
Yosemite National Park
From Bridgeport, CA, where Derrick’s workshop was based, I drove into Yosemite National Park via the Tioga Pass, highway 120. Road construction stopped me from driving to the Valley; while stopped for the roadwork, I made this photo…
Mono Lake, California
This has got to be one of the most unique places in the U.S., and I made hundreds of photos there…
Antique Airplane Fly-In, Oologah, Oklahoma
Closer to home, some friends and I visited Will Rogers’ Birthplace Ranch for the annual Antique Airplane Fly-In. Dozens of planes and antique autos were on display, and their landings and departures were a sight to see. The whole day was fun!
Our “fall colors” were not the best this year, but we always try to make the best of it. 😉
Natural Dam, Arkansas
This rock shelf creates a natural “Dam” with an 8-foot tall waterfall. I am not the only photographer to visit, and – like many others – I have made hundreds of images over the years. Just a few days ago, this was the scene just before sunrise on a cold, frosty morning…
Although I had heard of this for many years, it was only a few days ago I made my first photos of Frost Flowers. Sometimes called “Frost Ribbons”, apparently they happen on cold, frosty mornings, when vegetation still has moisture in its stem. The moisture freezes, and forces its way out forming these ribbon flowers…
Best wishes for a Great 2016: Sweet light, peace, and joy…