Sunday, June 25, 2017

Dueling Duo


Grizzly bears. In the wild. Up close and personal. It doesn't get much better than this. These two siblings were mock-fighting for over an hour. What a treat and a privilege to see this action. Real and raw.

The Alaska brown bears trip last week in Lake Clark National Park provided my entire group a wide variety of superb photographic opportunities. Being able to see wild animals live their lives as they have for eons is so much different from seeing animals in a zoo or in a TV documentary. Being with them, seeing what they have to do to survive and thrive, and watching the young ones learning how to become healthy adults, ties us all to the web of life. We get so wrapped up in our daily lives in civilized society with our creature comforts,  essentially unconnected with the natural world. Having the opportunity to observe and photograph wildlife in their natural setting is an experience everyone interested in wildlife and nature should experience at least once in their lives. It helps put life on our planet and our own personal lives into a much different perspective. It is a life-changing experience.

The next Alaska brown bears trip has been scheduled for July 13 - 19, 2018. I am still traveling in Alaska, but if you would like more information, or would like to be placed on the "Interested List" please email me at awakethelight@charter.net   I will get in touch with you when I return to my office in mid-July.

TECHNICAL DATA
1/1000 sec., f/8, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 390mm on Canon 7D Mark II body.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect."  --Chief Seattle

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Puffin Postcard


I am breaking tradition today by showcasing a composite of 3 images for today's blog. While on the brown bears photo tour, we took a side trip to a nearby island to photograph puffins who had just returned for nest building and breeding. Puffins live most of their lives at sea, and only come on land to breed in the summer. They choose isolated rocky locations with few predators and protected nesting burrows in the rocks.

For me, this was a decades-long dream fulfilled. I had wanted to be up close and personal to puffins for years, and I finally got the chance. I can't begin to describe the thrill of being so close to these birds and being able to photograph them while they went about their daily lives. This is what nature and wildlife photography is all about  -  observing nature's creatures continuing along the path of life.

Of course there are frustrations as well. Puffins are very speedy fliers and photographing them in flight was challenging to say the least. A very fast shutter speed is needed, generally a minimum of 1/1250 sec. and higher. And finding these speeding bullets in the frame is a challenge as well. Continuous shooting, and many missed shots was the order of the day. But thankfully there were enough sharp images with good lighting and wings in good positions to make me happy.

TECHNICAL DATA
1/1250 sec., f/8, ISO 800.  Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 300mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "What you do not see, do not hear, do not experience, you will never really know."  --native Alaskan Anders Apassingok of the St. Lawrence Island Yupik

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Three Bears


The Alaska brown bears trip ended today, and what a week we had! The weather was perfect, the lodge was a wonderful place to stay with lovely rooms, great meals and a superb guide, and the bears were perfection itself. We saw moms and cubs, adult males, dueling teenagers, nursing babies, wildflowers, and puffins. It doesn't get any better than that!

This threesome was curious but not about us. There was an adult male in the area and that usually puts moms on high alert. In this location we are able to get fairly close to the bears safely. Safety is always the main concern, and these bears, although wild, are so used to seeing photographers with cameras, tripods, and ATVs that they barely pay any attention to us. We are always careful to keep our distance, not crowd them, and not block their access to feeding areas or water.

This is my third trip to this part of Alaska, Lake Clark National Park. It is about a one-hour small plane ride from Anchorage. In my opinion it is far and away the best place to view and photograph brown bears safely. I love it so much that I am already planning next summer's trip. It will run from  July 13 - 19. If you are interested, please let me know as soon as possible. This trip typically fills quickly, and it has not been officially advertised yet, so information is not on the website. Email me for details at awakethelight@charter.net

TECHNICAL DATA
1/1000 sec.,  f/8, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 140mm, on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Nothing exists for itself alone, but only in relation to other forms of life."  --Charles Darwin

Monday, June 12, 2017

Alaska - The Last Frontier


Flew into Anchorage, Alaska last night and was greeted by this beautiful scene. Craggy mountains peaking out over smooth white clouds. What a feast for the eyes. This was shot with an iPhone6 so the resolution is not the best, but I wanted to share it with you.

Alaska is one of my favorite places. The wildness, the variety of wildlife both on land and in the water, the crisp cool air even in June, the friendly people, and the general feel of the place have mesmerized me and I keep coming back for more.

This time I am here for two different photo tours. The first one, starting on Tuesday, is to photograph grizzly bears in their natural habitat in Lake Clark National Park. While the bears are wild, we live in relative comfort. We stay in a lovely privately-owned lodge along the shores of the Cook Inlet at the border of the national park (about a one-hour flight from Anchorage by small bush plane). The lodge has a wonderful chef to prepare all our meals, and we have our own guide and driver. Our lodge is in the middle of bear country, and the bears often roam through the grounds. The lodge is only a few hundred yards from the water's edge, and we and all our gear are transported by ATV to where the bears are each day. The bears are truly wild, but are acclimated to humans. We practice serious bear safety nevertheless. The bears are in charge and we move as needed to maintain a safe distance from them. When photographing wildlife you always want to remain a safe distance away and do nothing to frighten them, or disturb their feeding or their parenting. Doing so can put you in danger quickly.

The other photo tour, starting toward the end of the month, is an 8-day boat-based trip to photograph whales, sea otters, puffins and other sea life. The entire boat has been chartered for just our group, and it is a beautiful boat. It has teak wood interiors, double occupancy staterooms with private bath, top-of-the-line stabilizers for smooth sailing, and superb creature comforts. It sleeps only 8 passengers, plus a crew of 3. The boat will transport us to where the action is best, and we can shoot as long as the action is good. We will also be going out on Zodiacs and sea kayaks to get closer shots.

So this will be a very exciting time for me and for those participating in each of the trips. Will keep you posted as internet access allows.

TECHNICAL DATA
1/6400 sec., f/2.2, ISO 32. iPhone6 camera with 4.15mm f/2.2 lens. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "We live in a wonderful world full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open."  --Jawaharial Nehru

Friday, June 9, 2017

Catch Me If You Can

Before the Action


Peak of the Action

Bird photography can be very challenging. Most birds are beautiful, like this Skimmer, but often they move like the wind and it can be difficult to get the focus just right AND capture the action.

Skimmers generally make multiple passes over the same section of water, skimming the surface (hence their name) in search of food. Because they will repeat their actions in more or less the same place, after a few passes you can begin to predict their route and can pre-focus to be ready when they move into view.

Originally I was only going to post the Peak of the Action image, but thought that perhaps it would be hard to see and understand exactly what was going on. So the Before the Action image, taken just before the skimmer spotted a fish and tucked his head under to grab it, shows the normal position of the bird as it skims over the water.

To get successful images of birds in flight, it is important to use two techniques  -  rapid burst in order to fire your shutter in rapid succession, AND Continuous (Nikon) or AI Servo (Canon) to allow your camera to continuously focus on the bird as it moves. Employing both those camera settings will help maximize your chances of getting good shots.

TECHNICAL DATA
1/2000 sec., f/8, ISO 1600. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens with 1.4x extender set at 560mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best."  Henry Van Dyke  

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Bear Facts


Alaska is known to be Bear Country. Grizzly (brown) bear to be exact. This lone female was walking along the shoreline of the Cook Inlet in search of a fish dinner. Brown bears in this area, about an hour's flight from Anchorage by small plane, are unquestionably wild. But they have so much food and are so used to seeing humans that they are not bothered by our presence, as long as we keep our distance and do not interfere with their feeding, and their offspring.

The guides in this area know the individual bears, their habits, and their favorite routes from the shore to the fields to the woods to the nearby mountains. They advise us when to move and how far, so that we do not disturb the bears in any way. In this location I have seen bears walk within 10 to 20 yards of where we are standing. As long as we are positioned off their chosen path, they have no concerns about us and pass by fairly closely.

This bear was considerably farther away than that, and was shot with a 100-400mm lens with a 1.4x extender on a crop sensor body. That is my preferred lens / body combination, and allows me to get good close-ups when the bears are near, and some nice environmental shots, like this one, when the bears are farther away.

When photographing wildlife, be prepared to shoot at all times of day. You will want to be on location when the action is good, regardless of the time of day and the quality of the light. Of course we always want perfect light, but we rarely get it. So you have to work with what you are given. This was shot late in the day in relatively low light. I chose to render the bear as a silhouette for drama. She is so small in the frame that the lack of detail in her body is not a problem. Her body position was perfect to show all four legs and her head in profile. It is unmistakably a brown bear.

I took many images as she walked by me, in hopes of getting this position. With wildlife, I always shoot on rapid burst so that I can capture slight variations of leg and head positions. That allows me to select the one I like best as the final image.

I am looking forward to being back in my favorite part of Alaska's Bear Country in mid-June.

TECHNICAL DATA
1/1600 sec, f/9, ISO 1600.  Canon 100-400mm lens set at 140mm, on Canon 7D Mark II body.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Bears keep me humble. We need to preserve the wilderness and its monarchs for ourselves, and for the dreams of our children. We should fight for these things as if our life depended on it, because it does."  --Wayne Lynch

Monday, May 22, 2017

How To Show Emotion


Almost any subject can be portrayed to convey or stir emotion. These two lady slipper buds were tipped toward each other, so I selected a position that accentuated that. Each of the buds was nestled inside an outer protective leaf, and the rear one was placed so that it appeared to be in a protective position. Perhaps it represents a parent and child, or a caring couple.

Of course all images are subject to individual interpretation, and your reaction to this image might be different from mine. And that is fine.

The point is to try to convey emotion in your images. Not every image needs to have emotional appeal, but tapping into emotions can certainly add impact. Images that stimulate feelings of either tenderness, grace, dance-like moves, or other aspects that provoke an emotional response from the viewer will have instantaneous appeal and will stand the test of time.

TECHNICAL DATA
1/125 sec at f.2.8, ISO 400. Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS macro lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Emotional responses are often regarded as the keystone to experiencing art, and the creation of an emotional experience has been argued as the purpose of artistic expression."  --Wikipedia

Friday, May 19, 2017

Color Harmony


This was a lucky shot. This delicate butterfly happened to be on a large leaf with a soft green background behind it. Using a wide aperture guaranteed that the background would go soft, but it was lucky that the background was the same green as the leaf the butterfly was standing on.

Shallow depth of field is a favorite technique of mine. Using a wide aperture from about f/2.8 to f/5.6 will assure you of a soft background in most cases. This technique, coupled with a fast enough shutter to guarantee a sharp picture when hand-holding the camera, can result in beautiful images.

I generally start with an ISO of 400 and an aperture of f/2.8 or f/4. In most cases that results in a shutter speed of 1/125 sec. or faster which often is fast enough. An even faster shutter speed helps ensure that your images will be sharp (no camera shake), but usually you can get away with a shutter speed as slow as 1/125 sec. and still get sharp images.

TECHNICAL DATA
1/400 sec. at f/2.8, ISO 400. Canon 100mm f/2.8L macro IS lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "With an eye made quiet by the power of harmony ... we see into the life of things."  --William Wordsworth

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Truck Graveyard


I took a couple of personal days to go in search of new and different things to shoot. One of the participants in the Butterflies and Flowers photo workshop told me about a truck graveyard not too far away, so when the workshop ended I went to check it out. Thanks, George!

What a fun and creative thing to do. I had heard about truck graveyards in various parts of the country, but had never been to one. This one was relatively small, but had enough different old trucks in varying stages of decay to make it a great location.

Often when shooting it takes me a little while to "get in the groove." That was the case here. It took about half an hour of wandering around, looking at the different trucks, and exploring interesting areas to concentrate on, before I was ready to dive in.

I shot some with a super wide angle lens to accentuate and distort the shapes of the trucks, and others, like this one, with a slight telephoto lens to zoom in on details. This approach allowed me to concentrate on abstract shapes, designs, and colors.

I used Lightroom to punch up the colors and to improve the contrast. For this type of subject matter, those changes greatly improved the look of the image.

The main things to keep in mind when shooting unique or unusual subjects are to allow yourself to slow down, really take your time to look at the options before you, explore different angles, and then begin to select areas to concentrate on. It is great fun, and a wonderful jump start for your creativity.

TECHNICAL DATA
1/125 sec., f/8, ISO 200.  Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS lens on Canon 7D Mark II body.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Abstract art [goes] beyond the tangible. It is the emancipation of the mind. It is an exploration into unknown areas."  --Arshile Gorkey

Friday, May 12, 2017

Butterflies Are Free


The BUTTERFLIES & FLOWERS workshop has just ended, and it was wonderful. Everyone got great images, and we all had a great time. The 1000 butterflies were very cooperative and sat still long enough for each of us to get some super shots.

When photographing butterflies, it is important to get the head sharp. It is nice to also get a great deal of sharpness in the wings as well, but a little bit of softness is acceptable, as in this image.

Since this critter is just black and white, it helps that it was perched on a brightly colored flower which adds a bit of punch.

To improve your chances of getting great shots of butterflies, first approach slowly. Rapid movements can startle them and cause them to fly away. In order to maximize depth of field, another tip is to try to position the camera parallel to the wings. Also, pay close attention to the background. A cluttered background, or one with blotchy lighting, can be very distracting and take attention away from the main subject.

TECHNICAL DATA
1/125 sec. at f/4, ISO 800. Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS macro lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "There is nothing that makes its way more directly to the soul than beauty."  --Joseph Addison