Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bald Eagle Boxley Mill Pond 12/31

This eagle is pretty cooperative. He has been hunting the mill pond for a while now. The mill pond has more fish than the river and I think the hunting is easier. I had the impression this morning he was watching the otter to see if they might miss an injured fish.

Bald Eagle at the Mill Pond

12/31/13 Elk Herd Locations -- Otter in Mill Pond

Elk end the year in remote locations.  The bull herd that has been about a half mile north of the mill pond was visible today, but back against the cane line.

In the deep south end, the herd has shifted to the southernmost field south of the trail head. They have been moving around from the Smith Creek field, so I would expect they might be back there in a day or two.

The big news this morning was 3 feeding in the mill pond. I am pretty sure this is the juvenile group I photographed earlier in the year. This was about 8:30 AM if you are trying to get some otter shots, though otter are never very predicable.

There is also a bald eagle hunting the mill pond. This morning he was there for over 40 minutes rotating between different perch locations. All of them were close to the road.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

12/28/13 Elk Herd Location Map

Very good elk viewing this morning. The biggest herd was down by Smith Creek in the south end, numbering roughly 50 animals and still showing a rutting pattern with a herd bull.

North of the mill pond about a half mile was a pretty good sized bull herd. To see them I recommend getting to the valley early, they seem to leave before 9 am.

A handful of young bulls were up by the Ponca Access.

Herd Bull "Chaos" Rutting by Smith Creek

It's pretty late but the herd bull "Chaos" was rutting this morning. You can see the sod tossed to the right, and grass on his antlers. His herd was down by Smith Creek this morning and had roughly doubled to about 50 animals overnight.

Late Rutting Bull by Smith Creek

Friday, December 27, 2013

15 Minute Workshop Series -- Leonardo da Vinci on Post Processing

Recently I have been reading the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci to understand painting theory. Back in his day, painters argued over how to create the best compositions based on theories about light and perception -- pretty brainy stuff and they fought like tigers over it.

Post-processing is where photographers become painters. "Post" is where we manipulate light, color, focus, and sharpness to get to our final creation.  My images might look different than what I took, but I may well have had a different visualization of the final image in the first place.

Post processing is makeup, not makeover. My bias is that the results of post processing must be plausible, not fantastic.

Most images are really improved in post processing, because no camera is accurate. I have really narrowed what I do in "post" and miss the last 5% to be gained by spending more time (unless I am grinding on an outstanding image). There are a few things I do that I think many do not do. Here is my short list:

  1. Noise reduction if the photo requires it. Sometimes selective to certain areas of the photo.
  2. I crop, and I crop shamelessly. I don't know why anyone cares if someone crops, and really, it is simply your choice (and none of their business). We sure don't need all the megapixels we have these days. Good crops make better compositions.
  3. "Values" matter more to me than anything else in post processing. Values are the tonal ranges in the photo, in my mind including saturation, sharpening and focus. In the old days it was dodging and burning, today we have more powerful tools like the NIK plugins and masking tools in PS and other programs to work selectively on areas in the photo.
  4. OK, what do I do with values? First, I subtly make the subject(s) of the photo lighter, more saturated, more contrasty, and sharper.  Second, I do the opposite with other aspects of a photo, the supporting elements and background, sometimes in stair steps from front to back. This pushes the less important parts of the photo "back". I will work with each part separately in many cases. This will give your photo depth, and make it more 3D.

    Think about this. Your final image is about both your subject and the background and supporting parts. The final quality of the image is about all these things working together visually, it is much more than the subject, good composition is the subject in context.
  5. I sharpen last. I also re-sharpen after I reduce or increase the size of a photo. I will sharpen selectively if it is indicated to my eye.  

What I found is that Leonardo's ideas on painting composition in the late 1400's tracked with what I have learned in hacking around in post processing. Guess I should have read his notebooks, would have saved me a lot of time.

I recommend reading books on painting to learn more about composition. Painters have been wrestling with composition for hundreds of years, they have a lot to teach us.

"Swiffer" is Cropped and Edited
Makeup, Not Makeover

Thursday, December 26, 2013

12/26/13 Herd Locations -- Elk Viewing Very Good

2 elk herds today, one in the first Ponca Field, a second down by Beech Creek. Yesterdays all-bull herds took this morning off, but they could not be too far away. The 2013 elk rut continues at the absolute bitter end. There seems to be at least one bull that hangs on this late. Any calves bred now will be born August or even September. If you pay attention, you will see very tiny calves during the rut now and then.

Bald eagle this morning at the mill pond.

Herd Bull "Chaos" by Beech Creek

This morning a new herd popped out from the outback. This second tier bull is one I call "Chaos". He is atypical x 3, absolutely the oddest rack I have ever seen. In this picture he is "nose up" preparing to turn the cow in the foreground to the right. This is an absolutely standard rut move -- herd compaction. I doubt there is more than one cow in his harem that is estrous, if that. Note the mud on his rack --  another marker of his rutting behavior.

So what is going on now? We are at the very end of the rut. The big bulls are gone, and the second tier bulls have taken over. This is in keeping with the very end of the rut. There will be some breeding that goes on, but this is the very end of it all. Calves sired in this period arrive in August.

What Lies Ahead
Great elk viewing and photography is far from over. Bull elk retain their antlers until the end of March. All-bull and all-cow elk herds will be very visible in the winter and often all day, although I prefer morning and evening photography.

Many of my very best pictures are from this period. The very first elk crossing I ever shot standing on the Ponca low water bridge was shot on December 28 and it made the cover of the state elk brochure. What I am saying is don't dismiss the period from now until the end of March, it can be amazing.

arkansas herd bull
Herd Bull "Chaos" at Sunrise by Beech Creek

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

12/25/13 Elk Herd Locations in Boxley Valley

There were 2 small bull herds and 1 small cow herd in Boxley Valley this Christmas morning.  All together there were maybe 30 elk in 3 locations. 

Merry Christmas everyone and best wishes for 2014. 

Christmas Morning Bull Elk

bull elk herd in Boxley Valley
Christmas Morning 2013 in Boxley Valley
This morning there were more bulls than cow elk in Boxley Valley. This was shot down by the 43/21 intersection. There was another group of bulls just a half mile further north toward Ponca.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Grazing by 43/21 Intersection -- Compos With 2 Elk

Compositions with 2 elk can be hard to get to look right. One strategy is to overlap the elk to kind of convert the picture to "2 gets you 1 subject". In this case, the biggest elk, Box is in the foreground, the smaller behind is behind him mostly, and mostly in the shadows.

Morning light cutting across the bodies of these animals animates their contours. I cropped this to a vertical 12x8 so that the tree would participate in the compo more effectively -- it reinforces the lines. It is pushed back, so the traditional rule concerned about it growing out of the elk has no meaning. In fact, in this case, it seems to point the elk. If I had cropped to 10x8, I don't think it would be as effective.

Arkansas Bull Elk
Make 2 Elk into 1 Subject by Association

Bull Elk Herd by 43/21

Bull elk herd at 43/21 field. I chose this image because "Box" was looking at the other elk with the shag grazing. The eye contact between animals that happens now and then matters a lot. Viewers read human emotion into these moments. In the background you can see the mill pond lit up by blue light from the sky.

I had the place to myself. When I left about 9:30 the bulls were still in about this position. To get this compo, I stayed south of the herd so that my shooting angle took in the mill pond. I could have got a lot closer, but then the background would have been a farm field.

Arkansas bull elk
All-bull Post Rut Herd by 43/21

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Winter Bull Elk Pictures -- Post Rut Bull "Box" at 43/21 Intersection

"Box" is not my favorite bull, he is a second tier bull with square looking antlers. This morning he and 2 buddies were real close to the fence just north of the 43/21 intersection. This picture took me 35 minutes and a tiny fraction of a second. 

I spent some time lining Box up in front of the tree in the background, then spent more time waiting for him to pick up his head. Patience is a big deal if you want to get the best poses. This is a "field shot", but it is at an angle to grab an interesting background. If you want to take better pictures, don't neglect to pose the background. It places the animal in context and is more interesting visually. 

Arkansas Bull Elk
35 Minutes and 1/500th of a Second

12/18/13 Elk Viewing Good, Bulls Close to 43

After a 2 week break due to snowy road conditions, this map reports December herd locations resuming on the 18th.  My guess is that these locations have been pretty good for the last week.

This morning some pretty nice bulls were close to the road at the 43/21 intersection. Got some pics, will post them today or tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

12/4/13 Ice Storm Coming -- No Elk This Morning

Wild animals will let you know when something is up. For 2 days now the elk have been holed up in the woods. Now we know why.

Driving conditions could prevent me from checking the herd tomorrow morning and maybe for a couple of days. It is not clear exactly when things will be getting bad Thursday, but if the forecast is only half correct this will be a tough storm.

On the mountain tops we really get hammered with ice storms. In 2009 we were without power for 8 days as I recall. Our 21 acres is only now recovering from that ice storm. Yesterday I bought 50# of sunflower seeds. The birds will need it for sure if the forecast holds.

I will be writing something for sure one way or another so check back.

2009 Ice Storm, Beautiful But Scary

2009 Ice at Sunrise

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

12/3/13 No Elk This AM

I did 2 tours of the valley this morning and there were no elk to be seen. This included a trip to Steel Creek. I did see some deer there. Today the animals seemed hunkered down.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Boxley Valley Eagle

We are in eagle season now. Locals will tell you it is from Thanksgiving to Valentines Day. We do have a year round population of eagles, but there are clearly more now. 

The two best places to see eagles in Boxley Valley are the low water bridge at the Ponca Access, and at the Mill Pond. 

The picture below is not the best on a foggy day, but you get the idea. I spotted this eagle by looking for the bright white of his head.  

Eagle viewing is stronger in the lower reaches of the Buffalo River because there are more fish and it is a bigger river.  

December Bald Eagle, Boxley Valley

12/02/13 Elk Herd Map & Report

Not much going on this morning.  There was an all-cow herd down by Beech Creek and some scattered bulls elsewhere. The herd in the Ponca Access field moved into cover again. Perhaps it will return tonight or tomorrow.

The next couple of days the weather will be very good for outside activities. This morning was very foggy.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

12/1/13 Ponca Rutting Bull Elk

Bugling herd bull still in rut near Ponca Access. This morning he bugled like it was October.

Bugling Bull 12/1 at Ponca Access

12/01/13 Elk Herd Locations & Report

December is getting off to a good start with an elk herd returning to the Ponca Access field. There was a pretty good crowd this morning, maybe 20 cars that got a good look at this herd for the couple of hours I was down there. Lots of bugling for this late in the season. This herd is still in the rut pattern.

Elsewhere in the valley there were some stray bulls.