Thursday, December 30, 2010

Looking Back at my 2010 Photography

I recall about this time last year thinking that I would work harder on black-and-white photography in 2010. As it turned out, while I got a number of pretty good black-and-white pictures, I don't recall spending any serious time working at it. The annual resolution went the way of most other resolutions on the new year.

As it turns out I did have some successes in 2010. While we might imagine that we know what will be coming in the months ahead, this is pretty much guess work. It takes a while to get to know a place, and once known, most subjects require a few photo sessions before you really understand how to get the best image possible. Then there are seasons, weather, and everything else. Outdoor photography can be a pretty tough game. One must be long-suffering and patient.

A few things stand out to me in 2010.

Ozark Spiderwort at Broadwater Falls
2010 was a pretty good year for wildflowers. I got a number of new species this year and some decent photos of them. One of my core beliefs is that you never really "get" the picture. You get "a" picture and sometimes it is pretty good. I believe mostly we are "given" images of special moments that now and then are special enough to transcend that moment, to be something more. I was given a handful of pretty decent wildflower images, including some of brand new species. Some of them have turned out to be pretty good black and white photos.

River Crossing in 2010 Elk Rut
What about the elk?  Every new year in elk photography is different. I have been at it long enough now to witness the changes in patterns from year to year. I like to place my elk photos in context, in settings that are different, and different in terms of interpretations of elk as an abstract form. I think it matters to stretch past the obvious, to try to tell a story, and to introduce your subject to your audience in new ways. 2010 gave me some of those photos of elk. After a 125,000 plus images in uncountable shoots one might imagine that there would be little new to discover. This year I witnessed at least 8 river crossings with dozens of images. One or two on my all time list. I found new ways to interpret elk, have new ideas for 2011.

Baby Mink Playing at Cove Creek
Other animals gave up an image now and then. The most memorable had to be the most unexpected. I was working at the computer and got burned out so I grabbed my go-to lens and camera and took off on a wild hair to a pool along Cove Creek near Erbie (no plan, just an impulse). When I arrived, I found a mink with 5 kits (cubs?) in the pool swimming all over the place. I don't think I got a lot of great images, but I was treated to baby mink that came right up to me, so close I had to back off to get the picture. I won't claim any great pictures in this case, but a great experience. Honestly that matters to me most.

Solitary Sandpiper Wading the Buffalo
I had the good fortune of having a doe cross in front of me during an elk river crossing. I saw on three occasions a family of otter feeding at the Ponca Access. Another favorite experience was a migrating group of Solitary Sandpipers roosting along the river during the rut. They allowed me to photograph them and seemed pretty unconcerned about my presence. I had only before seen these birds at some distance so this was a treat. I got one image I like a great deal.

Doe Wading the Buffalo River
Then there are those pictures I saw, and never got. The two most memorable were of wading elk, and both happened the same day during the early rut.  I was checking my usual spots when I came down a small bank to the river and saw the Boxley Beast, a magnificent bull, in perfect reflection in front of a river snag that I have photographed alone. The mirror of the river pool was absolutely still, and perfect. It was a lifetime shot, but the bull bolted out of the river before I could take one frame. Shortly later, I saw the bull he replaced licking his wounds, wading a pool with only his head and antlers showing. He traced a "V" in still water -- an amazing image, but I could not find a shooting lane.

Kids Playing in the Buffalo
Maybe the biggest miss of the year was a group of black panthers on my road. I was heading down to the Boxley Valley at dawn, rounded a corner and there was a black mass in the middle of the road. Two animals bolted immediately into the brush, a third stayed in the road long enough to give me the profile, that long tail and body before he joined the others. This is something I thought I would never see. The big cats are timid, rare and nocturnal.

I would rate the year pretty good. Because I take photos for a living, quite a few come my way. That is the way it works, more work, more results. I lead a fortunate life. The misses don't bother me much, if photography was easy, I would lose interest quickly. The price of admission to photography is low, but paradoxically, that makes getting great pictures harder. The game shifts to outstanding moments, and plain hard work. I think you never master it.

The misses keep me coming back, I know I will get some of them. Then there are the pictures I can visualize, but have not yet witnessed. There are also the pictures that will be given that I cannot imagine. It's the misses and possibilities that make photography compelling. I look forward to every shoot with a sense of possibility, and the prospect of unexpected moments that might come my way.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

December Weather, Elk Viewing Remains Strong

Frosty grass and crossing light can make ordinary
more dramatic like this sunrise shot. 
Cold weather changes everything in the Buffalo River region. December is a mixed bag, with some great days of wildlife viewing and some days when the weather is so cold that most people will not venture out. These days can be missed opportunities for elk viewing and photography.

Elk love cold weather. The truth be known, we are now in the very best season for daytime elk viewing. At best elk viewing is always unpredictable, but cold overcast days often translate to all day viewing. Elk generally despise sunlight, but cold weather will often keep them out in the fields in sunny days.

There are some new photo opportunities in very cold weather. One is steaming breath pictures. Bull elk are still bugling but only rarely now and will until almost the first of the year. A steaming bulgle is a great shot. Shots of elk just breathing heavily can be pretty dramatic. One key to getting a great result is to choose your backdrops carefully. A steamy breath against a dark background really stands out.

Another factor that changes elk behavior is deer season. Deer hunters move into the areas surrounding Boxley Valley and this pushes the elk herd into a more compact area. Of course there is the small annual elk hunts that have the same effect.

The Boxley Stud and a calf, a late rutting bull
Nothing much has changed in the elk herds from my recent entries. The elk are now in mostly the south end of the Boxley Valley, generally from mid valley to the fields around the Buffalo River at the south end. What remains of the rut is now down to the third estrous, there are very few estrous cow elk that remain, but there are some. There are at least two, and maybe three herds with remaining breeding in Boxley Valley. They are pretty easy to find. They continue to follow a morning and evening viewing pattern, but it is extended now in the cold.

We are now solidly in the Bald Eagle season, but in Boxley Valley the migrators have not shown so far. Visitors to the valley should keep an eye out for patches of white in the trees. The most reliable viewing area is around the Boxley Mill Pond. Bald Eagles fly very long distances when they feed, so visitors to the mill pond can arrive at any time.

This is also a very good time to photograph trumpeter swans. Steam rises off the water most mornings and it is a great addition to most pictures. Steam, swans and morning light offer a lot of creative possibilities.

Getting great December pictures still involves getting up early. Put on your warmest clothing and you might be rewarded with the best photos of the year. Make sure you check your exposures carefully, frost and bright light might fool our camera. Take test shots and look at the results. You might find you need to over- expose to get decent elk shots in frost.