Let the Games Begin! by Gordon and Cathy Illg

Orb weaver spider in dew-covered web, Jefferson County, CO. Image © Gordon and Cathy Illg

Orb weaver spider in dew-covered web, Jefferson County, CO. Image © Gordon and Cathy Illg

Text and Images by Gordon and Cathy Illg

I’ve known photographers who were totally oblivious of this fact, and I’ve lost sight of it myself from time to time: nature photography is not a contest. This can be a difficult thing to keep in mind, and it was another photographer–thank you Valerie Millett–who recently reminded me. Nature photography is not a game in which the person who visits the most locations or the most exotic sites wins.

I have fleeting moments when I think it might be nice if it was a game, at least for a little while, but those thoughts are generated by a desire for financial security. Speaking as a photo tour leader, it would be great if everyone was in a competition to see all the places we want to take them. However, for good or bad, it is not a contest, and it makes no difference if you’re photographing in Alaska or your own backyard, as long as you’re out there shooting.

The miracle that compels us to push the shutter button is not something that is only present in far away climes. The beauty and the life and death struggles that we want so desperately to capture happen in our own gardens, just as they do in the rainforest. This orb weaver spider laid her trap right beside our front door, and the fact that we didn’t need to travel to the far corners of the globe did not detract from the engineering marvel that was her web. From our house, we observed the evolutionary miracle that her stronger-than-steel gossamer strands represents and we witnessed the deadliness of her attack.

Orb weaver spider with prey, Jefferson County, CO. Image © Gordon and Cathy Illg

Orb weaver spider with prey, Jefferson County, CO. Image © Gordon and Cathy Illg

The poetic naturalist, Annie Dillard, once wrote, “Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly; insects, it seems, gotta do one horrible thing after another. I never ask why of a vulture or a shark, but I ask why of almost every insect I see.” And the same applies to spiders. You see, spiders do not simply eat their victims. They inject a witch’s brew of poison and enzymes that paralyzes the prey and reduces its muscles and organs to a protein shake. Then it can be sucked out. Don’t you get hungry just thinking about it?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to photograph exotic locations or to search for the Shangri-Las of nature photography. There, you can find magnificent scenery, charismatic megafauna, and colorful birds. Our business depends upon some of these destinations, and even though Cathy and I have been lucky enough to visit a good number of these places, there are many more that are still on our list. This desire to see new places often has little to do with the quality of the photos we come home with, and a photo of an iceberg or a grizzly bear or a lion cub is not inherently better than one of a flower, a bug or a squirrel. When we judge photography competitions, we’ve found that the most ordinary and pedestrian images are often the ones with the most exciting subjects. It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking the image is exciting just because the subject is. Some of the most extraordinary images are composed of ordinary subjects. I’m not sure if the ones I’ve included with this blog illustrate this fact adequately, but you get the idea.

Personally, I think that nature photography is a contest, the winner is the one who gets to spend the most time immersed in the mystery and majesty that we are a part of.

You can see more images by Gordon and Cathy Illg and learn about their photo tours at http://www.advenphoto.com

Image by © Gordon and Cathy Illg

Image by © Gordon and Cathy Illg

Multi-flash Hummingbird Photography by Nate Chappell

A Sword-billed Hummingbird (left) and a Chestnut-breasted Coronet battle over a hummingbird feeder. © Nate Chappell

A Sword-billed Hummingbird (left) and a Chestnut-breasted Coronet battle over a hummingbird feeder. © Nate Chappell

Images and Text by Nate Chappell

Photographing hummingbirds in flight in countries like Ecuador and Costa Rica with natural light or with just one flash can be very difficult. The reason – most of these birds live in the cloud forest where there isn’t much light due to both shade from trees and cloud cover. One solution for this, which creates beautiful flight shots, is a multi-flash hummingbird setup. By setting up several slave flashes set to 1/32 or 1/16 power around a hummingbird feeder or flower you can produce stunning images of hummingbirds in flight. The reason is that the flashes are actually synching at speeds of 1/8000 to 1/12,000 of a second changing the effective shutter speed from what is on your camera – let’s say 1/200 sec to the lightning fast speed of the flashes synching. The key to this is having the flashes produce all of the light, otherwise you will be mixing ambient light and flash lighting. In that case the 1/200 sec shutter speed will affect the image by causing blurring in parts of it. So you need to have your camera’s exposure set to at least -3 or -4 stops below the ambient lighting.Another helpful component is to have an artificial background – often a large printed photograph held a few yards behind the mutli-flash setup. Continue reading

The Excellent Unknown by Sean Bagshaw

On the Verge, Colorado, 2014. © Sean Bagshaw

On the Verge, Colorado, 2014. © Sean Bagshaw

Images and Text by Sean Bagshaw

As outdoor photographers, we work in conditions beyond our control. Fortunately the unpredictable, whimsical and surprising elements of weather and landscape are also what can make it so engaging and fulfilling. Attempting to photograph the landscape in its defining moments has lead me to some formative life experiences, experiences that have taught me to look closely, wait patiently, see deeply and appreciate fully.

Consider an autumn photography trip I took several years ago. Excited by the promise of fall color and dramatic skies, I crossed Oregon, bound for Montana and Idaho. 1,200 miles later I arrived at Glacier National Park on the edge of an approaching storm. Hunkered in my van, I was buffeted by high winds and rain for four days, during which I was able to take photos for perhaps an hour or two. I never did see any of the famous peaks or glaciers on that visit.

Undeterred, I headed south in hopes of better weather. In the Sawtooth Range of Idaho, low cloud cover and snow kept the mountains hidden for all but a few minutes of the next four days. Windblown rain spotted my lens and blurred the aspen leaves in my low light exposures. During the long stretches of time alone in my van, I read, scouted locations, and studied the landscape and weather. I got up before dawn in order to be ready if the sun broke through. It didn’t.

Somewhere Autumn, Colorado, 2014. © Sean Bagshaw

Somewhere Autumn, Colorado, 2014. © Sean Bagshaw

The mountains were still shrouded when my time came to an end. As I drove back across the high desert of eastern Oregon, the skies opened for a brief moment, but by morning the clouds were back and it was snowing.

Despite the lack of photographs I had to show for my effort, I returned feeling invigorated and inspired. I was not ready to be indoors quite yet. The day after arriving home, I decided, on a whim, to make a quick visit to the upper Rogue River (just an hour’s drive away). After days of being immersed in gray, I was caught off guard when one of the most brilliant sunrises I’ve experienced illuminated the sky. For the rest of the day I hiked and I photographed bright fall foliage along the river in perfect soft light. On that single day I took more images than the previous nine combined, including one of my all time favorites. Those ten days will be with me forever: the cold, the gray, the quiet, the slow, the subtle, and finally the brilliant and unexpected.

Contrast that experience with the autumn photography trip I took to Colorado recently with my friend, Zack Schnepf.

The fates of weather aligned very differently for us. In two weeks we saw everything from cloudless, 80-degree days to thunderstorms, snow and 20-degree mornings. With some careful planning and a lot of luck we managed to consistently be in the right place at the right time. With such a string of ideal conditions we were working at a hurried pace and shooting continuously. We were even happy to see low clouds, drizzle and flat light one afternoon so we could justify a few hours off to take a shower and get to bed early. The photographs we took tell the story of the trip better than anything I can write.

The Rogue River is a river located in the southwestern part of Oregon, flowing from the Cascade Range to the Pacific Ocean.  The Rogue Gorge is a narrow channel formed by volcanic basalt rock that the river flows through. © Sean Bagshaw

The Rogue River is a river located in the southwestern part of Oregon, flowing from the Cascade Range to the Pacific Ocean. The Rogue Gorge is a narrow channel formed by volcanic basalt rock that the river flows through. © Sean Bagshaw

These two autumn photography experiences will always provide welcome memories. One was solitary, slow paced, introspective and moody, building to a grand finale. The other was very social and frenetic, with little time to reflect as the light and landscape of each new scene somehow eclipsed the one before. Most photography trips fall somewhere between these two extremes. Given the choice I would no doubt opt for perfect conditions every time. But, fortunately, we don’t get to choose the conditions. When the photography is less than optimal we have an opportunity to slow down, put the camera away for a while and just watch and listen. Even though we don’t know when or how, if we are patient and present, nature will eventually show us something wonderful. This excellent unknown is why I will always go outside and take photographs.

Sean Bagshaw is an outdoor photographer and photography educator based in Ashland, Oregon. He spends as much time as he can in the field on a quest for magical light. He can be found sleeping in his truck or on the ground, stumbling around in the dark, eating bad food and avoiding showers. He is one of six members of the Northwest based PhotoCascadia team. You can see more of his photography and find out about workshops and video tutorials at www.OutdoorExposurePhoto.com and www.PhotoCascadia.com.

 

Momentary Glimpse of the Sawtooth Range. © Sean Bagshaw

Momentary Glimpse of the Sawtooth Range. © Sean Bagshaw

True Grit, Colorado, 2014. © Sean Bagshaw

True Grit, Colorado, 2014. © Sean Bagshaw

Lost in the Longleaf by Todd Amacker

Longleaf pine forest in Blackwater River State Forest, Florida by Todd Amacker

Longleaf pine forest in Blackwater River State Forest, Florida by Todd Amacker

 

Images and text by Todd Amacker 

One of North America’s most biodiverse forests, the longleaf pine forest of the Southeast, is missing from 97% of its historic range. As a proud Southerner, I’ve spent a great deal of time ambling through pine forests in the Florida panhandle. Recently, I’ve made an effort to use my photography and my words to portray exactly what has disappeared along with the forests themselves.

There are a lot of treasures in longleaf pine forests that make them special, both aesthetically and scientifically. It all starts with the longleaf pine tree itself, Pinus palustris. It’s resistant to fire, and that’s important when frequent fires sweep through the understory and flames lap at the trees’ exteriors. Layers of specially evolved, crusty bark protect its delicate innards. It is actually unhindered fire that gives life to the longleaf ecosystem and contributes to its aesthetic beauty. Because of the fire, the undergrowth is burned away and you can see between trees. (This is quite refreshing for forest enthusiasts, as most forests hamper your ability to enjoy the view.)  Continue reading

The Abita Creek Flatwoods Preserve by Lana Gramlich

Foggy autumn morning by Lana Gramlich

Foggy autumn morning by Lana Gramlich

 

Images and Text by Lana Gramlich

In 2006 I moved to Abita Springs, Louisiana, a quaint, little town on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. A year later I discovered that I lived just over a mile from The Nature Conservancy’s Abita Creek Flatwoods Preserve. Since then I have walked and photographed there dozens of times. Three ecosystems mesh at this 996 acre site– longleaf pine savanna, slash pine/pond cypress woodlands and bayhead swamp. From forests and grassy fields to the Abita Creek that runs through them, this unique convergence offers some wonderfully varied photographic opportunities.

Only about 3% of America’s longleaf pine savanna still exists today. At this preserve, not only do I get to photograph these wonderful woods, but, in an effort to give back, I’ve joined a team of volunteers that meets to plant saplings every January. Light streaming through the pine savanna is always a joy to photograph (particularly on foggy mornings,) but for a few weeks every Fall it takes on a surreal, colorful glow shortly before sunset, an effect I refer to as “fairy light.”  Continue reading

A Photographer’s Pompeii by Chad Anderson

Pine Rocklands

Pine Rocklands

Text and Images By Chad Anderson

Vast stretches of azure blue waters thinly vail a dark secret. It’s been happening ever since the melting of the Wisconsin glacier some 12,000 years ago, but now occurs at a hastened pace and with a new cause. Meanwhile, Margaritaville plays, tourists stroll, and wading birds perch on mangrove shores as the slow pace of everyday life in the Florida Keys continues. Scientists, government entities, and even the public are coming to a grim reality. Change is here. It’s not abstract, distant, or easily pushed aside but prevalent, pervasive, and imminent—and the evidence is everywhere. The vast stretches of post card blue waters are a result of recently submerged lands. Even the upland forests here can hardly conceal their ancient marine past. Just millimeters below the leaf litter lies weathered coral reef. One of the oldest permanent tidal monitoring stations in the United States is located in Key West, Florida. Without hyperbole, it states the bare truth. Nearly nine inches of sea level rise has occurred since 1913. That may not sound like much, but for perspective, the average elevation is less than four feet. This effect is amplified by the fact that the slope of the shoreline is near flat, imperceptible to the human eye in most cases. For this reason, a couple inches of rise can translate to hundreds of feet of land lost. In just a few decades the changes to the ecosystems have been staggering, rapidly shifting as the mangroves march inwards. Ancient buttonwoods stand like tombstones of a once proud forest. At times, mangroves, the most halophytic of all flora, can’t keep up the pace. Continue reading

Observing an Osprey’s Pursuit by Robert Strickland

© Robert Strickland

© Robert Strickland

Images and Text by Robert Strickland

I recently observed one of the greatest nature shows I had ever witnessed. I was over at a subdivision near my home, which has good-sized pond. I was there to photograph water birds and other water fowl that frequent the pond. While I was setting up and watching for subjects, I kept hearing an Osprey cry out. I soon discovered him on the top of a tree just across the pond from me.

As I was focusing my eye on him, he swiftly took off and climbed high above the pond. The osprey suddenly went into a hover, staring into the water below. Finding nothing, he started flying around in circles, and then went back into a hover, moving side to side, hovering, and then going around in circles. After a few moments, he did a free fall toward the water. I immediately swung my camera to capture the aggressive splash and watched him fly off with a fish. However, the fish he picked was much too big and he could not immediately get it out of the water. He was stranded with his wings spread, trying to stay afloat with a huge fish in his razor sharp talons. After a few moments of struggling, he was airborne and flew off with his catch. However, he only got to the edge of the pond because the fish was so big.

Continue reading

Making a Molehill out of a Mountain by Mitch Baltuch

An arctic ground squirrel posing in Denali National Park.  It is sitting surrounded by tundra vegetation at the height of fall color in late August. Photo by Mitch Baltuch.

An arctic ground squirrel posing in Denali National Park. It is sitting surrounded by tundra vegetation at the height of fall color in late August. Photo by Mitch Baltuch.

Text and Images by Mitch Baltuch

With the advent of digital photography, the proverbial shoebox moved from cardboard to silicon. The computer, or more correctly, the hard drive, became the shoebox. Along with this change came a significantly larger amount of images. The cost of film and processing no longer applied and everyone felt very comfortable in both shooting more images and using the high-frame rate capture setting on their camera. The result: a huge mountain of images. For many, this meant a mountain of chaos if they did not have a workable digital image management strategy.

Interestingly, with the advent of workflow-centric software tools, it is easier than ever to manage the images we capture and provide rapid, efficient search capabilities that allow us to find any image, for any purpose, in a very small amount of time. In addition, while not exactly fun, the job is no longer the mind-numbing, tedious task that it used to be.

To make a molehill out of the mountain that is digital image management, there are two requirements:

  • An image management workflow
  • A complimentary tool that allows one to efficiently perform that workflow

Continue reading

Finding Community in NANPA by Mark Kreider

Photo by Mark Kreider

Photo by Mark Kreider

Text and Images by Mark Kreider

I have been a NANPA member for a year and a half. Even in that short time, NANPA and its supportive community have influenced me in many meaningful ways. Life seems to be full of wonderful flukes, and my introduction to NANPA was one such instance. One morning in November of 2012, when I was a high school senior, I received word from a fellow photographer of a great photographic opportunity that existed for high school students. Though just three days away from the deadline of NANPA’s High School Scholarship Program application, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. I quite honestly remember thinking it looked too good to be true – a chance to spend a week in the field and at the NANPA Annual Summit, all the while learning and being inspired. I wondered to myself a little incredulously, How could I not have heard of NANPA before? It looks awesome! Continue reading

Montana’s HWY 1, The Pintler Scenic Byway by Pam W. Barbour

Flint Creek by Pam Barbour

Flint Creek by Pam Barbour

Text and Images by Pam W. Barbour

While looking at a map of Montana, if you draw a diagonal line between Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, the center of that line nears a special place called the Pintler Scenic Byway (recently renamed the Pintler Veterans Memorial Scenic Byway). This byway is about 60 miles long and unlike many byways in Montana, it’s completely paved for its entire length. This scenic spur gives you a break from interstate driving but at the same time doesn’t deviate too far so you can get back on track if you’re headed somewhere specific. Also known as MT HWY 1, it was the first state highway to be paved. Going east on I-90 from Missoula, you can start at the north end of the byway in the town of Drummond. Going west on I-90 from Butte, you can start at the south end near the town of Anaconda. We’ll start in Drummond. Continue reading