Monday, April 28, 2014

Dueling Hummingbirds in Dogwood Tree

Dueling hummingbirds in our dogwood tree near our feeders. This is my toughest hummingbird picture to date. Hummers are a tough subject if you go for more than the standard sit on a limb picture. The tough part here is getting them in the same plane of focus. Hummers will tend to spiral around one another. 

Like many of my photos, this took 5 hours of observation, sitting, hundreds of misses, and 1/2000th of a second. I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out the key to timing these photos. I have learned that the flaring of the tail feathers signals a likely takeoff in the next fraction of a second. Once I focused on that, I got many more good in flight photos. 

The male bird in this picture is actually preparing to take off in the next instant. The image makes him look like he is falling off the limb. I could not begin to time this instant. The key is to anticipate these moves by focusing on the tail flaring. Understand too that if you don't shoot at the instant of the flare behavior, you will never get the shot. It takes at least about a second to fire the shutter after you have seen the signal. You will miss a lot of shots, but you will get some of these too if you are patient. 

Dueling Hummingbirds in Dogwood Tree

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Blue Heron Nests, Cane Island, White River

Interesting subject and a tough compo because all the nesting birds are moving constantly.

This is one where you have to pull up a chair and just wait for the right moments.

Blue Heron Nests Cane Island, White River

This blue heron nesting area on Cane Island loads up each spring. This picture is a piece of a 9 nest complex. Herons are very timid on the Buffalo River. On the White they see a lot of people so getting good pictures of them there is pretty easy.

Nesting Blue Herons

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Add Magic to Your Wildflower Photos

While the flower is the point of the composition, but the context provides the magic, the sense of the eternal. Most have a first impulse to take photos where the entire flower fills the frame. Over time, I have gone the other direction. I want to express the flower in context, and clearly in a moment in time, meaning a moment in light, something given and ephemeral.

I was drawn to this composition by crossing light, that dead limb setting the flow of the picture, the unusual purple blue of this bloom, and the amazing curly grass.

If we get it right, a composition captures the magic of nature. We never really get "the picture", we are given "a picture". Cultivate the habit of looking at context as well as subject, look for the magic given, heaven in a wild flower. Feel the magic, accept the photo given in a moment of light.

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand 
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour.” 

Horned Violets Ponca Wilderness

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Commas and Question Mark Butterflies

Comma Butterfly -- Perfect Camo
Comma and Question Mark butterflies can be tough to get. Both are fast flying and seem to be timid. Most often I get them when they fly to me rather than me chasing them around. In the middle of the day they really fly around very fast.

My standard approach with butterflies is to find a great flower near many active butterflies, and then wait.  That generally does not work for these.

Question Mark Butterfly
I get these 2 when I am seeking other subjects like wildflowers. I usually get them with my 100-400 zoom all the way out. Generally you can't get very close to them.

This lens is underrated as a macro lens. I own a 180 mm macro lens and find it too short for getting close to these 2 species.  When my focus is dead on, the 100-400 mm is just as good.

Wild Iris Lost Valley Trail

Dwarf Crested Iris -- Lost Valley Trail
Wild iris are a favorite wildflower with photographers. They are up now, and will be gone soon.

Wildflower seas is on full gear now. Don't forget the butterflies. Shooting is very good now.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Rue Anemone at Sunrise, Ponca Wilderness

Rue Anemone at Sunrise, Ponca Wilderness, Buffalo National River
Rue Anemone at Sunrise, Ponca Wilderness
In my mind, nothing matters as much as selective lighting and dynamic range in composition. This Rue Anemone is cross lit and top lit. The selective lighting of the flower is in contrast to the other parts of the setting pops it out of the background.

I like this 3D effect, and I seek it in my wildflower work. This is my preferred "voice". If I live long enough I hope to paint now and then. This would be pretty close to what I would go for.

I took at least 20 pictures of this same flower. My friend Paul Caldwell calls this "working a subject". Try different angles, different points of view. Up light and down light. NEVER stop at the first photo -- study, move, look at the background and bokeh.  Give yourself choices for your post processing.

As is often the case, the tie breaker was the curvilinear branch at the background, the foreground detritus, and the glow of the flowers in mixed light. I think these compositions are more interesting than normally lit photos, and way more interesting than flash. I might hang this one because there are so many aspects that I like. Something more straight ahead would bore me.

Maple Seed Abstract

I pre-visualized this picture on my morning hike. These maple seeds are back and cross lit in early morning light. Bokeh and selective focus complete the idea. Don't neglect nature-as-abstract photos. 

Maple Seed Abstract

Woodland Moth on Mountain Grass

Moth on Moutain Grass
Walking to our springs out back I saw this little guy sleeping on a strand of mountain grass.

Be alert and accept the unexpected gifts that are given on your shoots. Too often photographers and hikers are too single minded about a destination or subject. Small gifts like this moth will only be observed if you shift your mindset to be aware and opportunistic. Any hike in nature offers up these small gifts if only we will slow down and accept them.

This is a special time of year. Wildflowers are popping everywhere. Warm nights are alive with the sound of breeding frogs and toads. Last night I would guess that we heard at least 6 different species at nightfall.

Another lesson in this picture it is to not be a slave to conventional image ratios. This one is a 3x10. It responds to the shapes presented in the composition.

Bull Frog
Mating Season & Pond Slime -- Living the Dream

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Float the Buffalo National River

Kayaker Attacking an Upper River Rapid
Today the Buffalo National River is slammed with floaters.  We have finally broken out of cold weather and floating conditions are ideal.

For information on river conditions and floating recommendations there is no better source than the Buffalo River Chamber of Commerce.  Check out the list of floating outfitters and river conditions.

Spring Float on the Buffalo National River

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Yellow Swallowtail on Wild Plum

Yellow Swallowtail on Wild Plum
Yellow Swallowtail on Wild Plum
This is another butterfly on a wild plum picture. I waited over an hour for this swallowtail to get in decent shooting range. I did get him tack sharp.

I think this is a pretty good picture. I would prefer for the bokeh to be simpler.

The flowers are fresh, meaning there is still plenty of pollen and the petals are in good form. The butterfly is also fresh, meaning it does not have wing damage from bird attacks and the color is not faded.

Painted Lady on Wild Plum

Painted Lady Butterfly on Wild Plum
First Observe & Plan, Wait, Then Shoot
This is another butterfly picture on our wild plum tree. This photo is very deliberate at every level. I wanted the sweeping branch with fewer blooms, and the bokeh with branches. Of course the Painted Lady butterfly had to cooperate.

This shows a basic strategy I rely on. I will take the time to study a complex floral setting like a tree, compose the bloom where I want the butterfly to land, and even take test photos to setup the bokeh. This does take time and patience, but when it all comes together it is very satisfying. To me this picture is 3D, it has a Japanese floral arrangement feel to it, and I like the light dynamics.

When shooting flowering trees, I might stand in the same spot, and locate 3 possible flower compos that I hope to get a butterfly to land on. I can shift between them without moving much at all. Then I just wait. And wait. And even wait more.

When someone asks me how long it took to get this picture my stock answer is 2 hours plus 1/1600th of a second. Patience is the key.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Butterflies & Flowering Trees

Hummingbird Moth on Wild Plum
I mentioned butterfly photography on the blooming trees. This is an example of one picture I got today. These little guys are pretty hard to get. There was only one of them today and I got him in a pose that I like.

Think about the flowers as well as the butterfly. I think the spray of blooms, filtered light, and bokeh make this picture.

Dogwoods Starting to Bloom & Wild Plum Trees Blooming Heavily

This is early, but today the dogwoods on Gaither Mountain (Ponca Wilderness) started to bloom. If you are a dogwood fan, you know at first the blooms open up as green, and then quickly shift to white. We are at stage one, the green bloom.

At lower altitudes usually the dogwoods will be a bit ahead of the mountain dogwoods. I would not be surprised to see white blooms by Sunday. It all happens very fast.

I just got in from shooting butterflies on my wild plum tree. Last night there were only buds, today it is an explosion of white flowers. These fresh flowers really draw in the butterflies. Think about visiting now if you are a serious butterfly photographer.  I got 5 species of butterflies without moving more than 10 steps.

Flowering Trees, Wildflowers, and Waterfalls are Going Strong

Horned Violets, Ponca Wilderness
Waterfall photo fans often use flowering trees to improve compositions. Red Buds, Serviceberry,
Wild Cherry, and Wild Plum trees are now peaking.

Early wildflowers are also peaking.  This year the bloom is very strong due to ideal rain conditions. Don't miss it.

The water table is still high so waterfalls are flowing well.

I would say this is the best year in many years for all these things coming together.

This weekend is also perfect for floating and hiking.  Get here now. The magic of the early spring season is upon us and this is an exceptional year.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Sunrise Anemone, Lost Valley Trail

Sunrise Anemone, Lost Valley
This Rue Anemone picture was taken 2 days ago. I hand held it from about 7 feet with my big 100-400 zoom.

The flower was in the middle of a bunch of dead grass that softened the morning sun. Look for these situations, often photographers don't notice slightly hidden flowers. They offer great filtered light opportunities. It is the small things that make flower photos exceptional. Note the tiny drops on the edge of the leaves.

Anemones look an awful lot like Sharp Lobed Hepaticas, but the leaves make it easy to tell them apart. Hepatica blooms have no leaves on the stalk around them. Rue Anemones always have leaves on the stalks. This picture is very typical.

The Rue Anemones are now coming on and they are a relatively long blooming wildflower compared to other spring wildflowers. Colors will range from this pink to white.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Waterfall Fan Alert -- Falls Running Hard

Eden Falls HDR Photo, Lost Valley Trail
Eden Falls, Lost Valley Trail
The water table is very high now and Buffalo River waterfalls are flowing hard. Rain today, and predictions for tonight mean that this weekend should be about as good as it gets.

Some of the flowering trees are now starting as well.  This morning I saw some, but not all, red buds blooming. Also some flowering plums. I expect dogwood blooms within the week. Wildflowers are strong now as well.

If you are going for the "cottony" look, slow shutter speeds are the rule. Another choice is taking an HDR, that offers that soft look, and more interpretive choices . I prefer HDRs.

If you want to get that special "roaring waterfall" picture like this one on the right, now is the time. These next 2 weeks will be outstanding. Rain is predicted most of next week. This great waterfall weather should last.

Be sure to check the weather reports. Our weather can change from day to day, one way or the other. There is a lot of rain predicted, I think overall that prediction is pretty reliable. It will be wet. If experience is any guide, I think if you plan to visit, check every day and be prepared to shift your schedule.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Sasquatch -- The Hairy Herdsmen of Boxley Valley?

Some have speculated that the recent disappearance of herd bulls is due to Sasquatch herdsmen in Boxley Valley running off bull elk while tending cow elk in preparation for the calving season. Perhaps these beasts are the descendants of those spotted in Ponca years ago around Steel Creek. The photo is every photographers dream. 

Elk Herd Locations Spring 2014

This is the spring season for the elk herds in Boxley Valley. Elk viewing remains pretty good most days. Bull elk have now shed their antlers, or very soon will shed them. April 1 is the traditional date for the antler drop.

Most visible elk are now in all-cow herds. The next big event on the elk calendar is calving season around mid-June. There will be calves born before then, and also a couple of months later.

Recently the best viewing has been in Zone 1 and in Zone 5. There will be stray elk here and there. Sometimes another cow herd shows up in Zone 3.  Get out early for reliable viewing. We are now in a cross over period to warm weather that causes elk to be visible at the ends of the day, morning and evening.