Field Techniques

This Birding Life by Budd Titlow

© Budd Titlow

© Budd Titlow

This Birding Life is a new monthly column by NANPA Member Budd Titlow.

WHITE-TAILED PTARMIGAN: Making the Snow Come Alive!

Images and Story by Budd Titlow

I’ll never forget the day the snow came alive beneath my feet.

It was a Sunday morning in February just after sunrise and I was heading up into the mountains for a day of cross-country skiing. The previous day’s blizzard had dumped more than a foot of snow on Colorado’s high country. But the morning air was surprisingly pleasant—almost balmy—considering it was midwinter and the nearby sign read: Guanella Pass Summit—Elevation 11,699 Feet.

I left the parking lot and started schussing toward a rock-lined ridge about a mile away. The blinding white glare made it difficult to look anywhere but straight down. The wind-whipped ripples of fresh snow squeaked cleanly as I poled along. A few hundred yards in, I paused to check my compass heading.

Suddenly there was a dance of movement all around my skis. Clumps of snow darted away from me in every direction. I knew it wasn’t an avalanche—the ground was barely sloping and, besides, these snow clumps all had orange eyelids, black beaks, and feathered feet.

Even in the harsh glare of the brilliant sun, the frenzy of white was no illusion. Within seconds, bright white, chicken-like birds were skittering everywhere across the snowfield in front of me. After I gathered my wits and realized that I was not about to fall into some deep crevasse or be eaten alive by prehistoric snow monsters, I understood that I had just invaded the snow-laden world of the white-tailed ptarmigan. It was difficult to say who was the more surprised, the birds or me.

Wild animals in Colorado have developed a variety of methods for coping with the rigors of a high-country winter. Many birds just avoid the cold altogether by migrating southward. But the white-tailed ptarmigan sticks around, surviving through some amazing adaptations. By the time the snow starts to pile up above timberline, the ptarmigan’s feathers have morphed from mottled brown to pure white, making these football-sized birds practically invisible to predators during the long Colorado winters. Feeding on twigs and buds of dwarf willows that poke above the wind-blown snowline, ptarmigan have fully feathered feet that keep them warm and allow them to walk on top of snowdrifts.

Ptarmigan also keep warm by digging deep into fresh snowdrifts until they are totally covered by the white powder. Which—as I experienced—makes it possible to be standing smack in the middle of a large flock without even knowing the birds are there. Strangely, these birds have a curious habit of belying their excellent natural camouflage when something stops moving. It’s as if they don’t believe their cryptic coloration actually works. So my compass-check was a lucky one, yielding the unforgettable experience of seeing the snow burst into life right before my eyes.

 

A Professional Wetland Scientist (Emeritus) and Wildlife Biologist, Budd Titlow is also an international/national award-winning nature photographer and a widely-published writer/author. Throughout his career, Budd has shared his love of photography and nature by presenting seminars, workshops, and field trips Nationwide. He has also authored four books: BIRD BRAINS – Inside the Strange Minds of Our Fine Feathered Friends (ISBN 978-0-7627-8755-5), SEASHELLS – Jewels from the Ocean (ISBN 978-0-7603-2593-3), ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK- Beyond Trail Ridge (ISBN 0-942394-22-4), and ENVIRONMENTAL SUPERHEROES: Now Climate Change Needs A New One (In Press). Budd’s work is featured on his web site (www.buddtitlow.com).

Photographing the Unseen by Sebastian Kennerknecht

Malayan Porcupine © Sebastian Kennerknecht

Malayan Porcupine (Hystrix brachyura) at night, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia © Sebastian Kennerknecht

Using SLR Camera Traps to Photograph the Unseen

Text and Images by Sebastian Kennerknecht

How do you photograph an animal so elusive that the biologists studying them have never even seen the species themselves? The answer is simple: SLR camera traps. Photographing wildlife with a camera trap seems easy in concept. Place a camera trap in the wilderness, let it sit there, and have it take amazing pictures while you relax at home. This isn’t quite the case. One of the hardest parts about camera trap photography is getting your set-up to work like you want it to. The camera and flashes have to be ready to take a picture at a moment’s notice, but it also needs to conserve batteries enough to last for an extended period of time. And then everything has to be safe in a serious down drench.  Read the rest of this entry »

HAVASUPAI REBORN, by Kerrick James

 

Havasu Falls and Rainbow

Havasu Falls and Rainbow

The landscape of the Colorado Plateau is ephemeral, a changeling, although to beings with short life spans this land seems immutable, a constant. But in canyon country stunning changes can occur in a single afternoon, altering the course of a stream, stranding a waterfall, even creating a new unheralded cascade. Thus, it has always been in Havasupai, named for the people of the blue-green water.

Havasupai, the mythic side canyon hidden well to the west of the South Rim summer mayhem and adjoining Grand Canyon National Park, has always been near the top of my favorite locations to photograph. I’ve been lucky to shoot this desert Shangri-la a dozen times since the late 70’s, with a progression of cameras from 4×5 to 67 Pentax to a variety of digital formats. For years I blithely assumed that the interwoven terraces of travertine below each of the three great waterfalls, Havasu, Navajo, and Mooney, would always be there to compose as one of the most artistic foregrounds imaginable.

Havasu Falls in autumn

Havasu Falls in autumn.

But in the mid-90s a major flash flood swept the canyon, ripping out the majestic rills of travertine, and though they grew again over the years they never regained their prior perfection. In August of 2008 a nearly catastrophic flood changed the course of Havasu Creek, turning secluded Navajo Falls to dust. But the perennial waters are yet lovely beyond belief, turquoise except during storms, and paradise has slowly been reborn.

My spring 2013 hike to Havasupai was a desire to see how the fabled canyon had recovered, how the familiar waterfalls had fared, and to explore the two new falls gifted us by that epic event, five year’s past. What I found was still pure magic, with scenes both grand and intimate, and wondrous beauty to photograph everywhere you turn. Of course, being an adventure shooter, I had to spice it up, so I brought a kayak. Really.

Havasu Falls in warm spring stormlight

Havasu Falls in spring stormlight.

We all grow as photographers over the years, seeing more acutely and sharpening our technique. But Havasupai seems somehow to offer the gift of extra time. Here the hours feel slower, richer and allow for reflection. In several languid days you can shoot the falls from dawn shadow light throughout the long day into starlight, as I did. And then you can do it again and again, doing variations of exposure (to fine tune the action and detail of the flowing waters) discover new compositions, and so much more.

For example, I had always dreamed of shooting Havasu Falls under the stars, lit by moonlight. But on this trip the tight canyon walls blocked the half moon, so I combined my warm LED light with a standard cool LED wielded by a friend, and over three nights finally made the images that had haunted my dreams. Patience is key with light painting. I liken it to burning and dodging in the darkroom, adding to and withholding light from your canvas of pixels, only you’re playing in real time and space. The exposure equation is complicated by fast diminishing light in the twilight sky above the falls, and by the constant adjustment of both ISO and actual exposure time.

Havasu Falls and starry sky

Havasu Falls at night.

My favorite Havasu Falls star images were shot in the range of 30-45 seconds at f/5.6, at ISO 800, with 12-14mm focal lengths on my Pentax K-3. You can shoot from the trail above the falls or beside the falls, but be wary. When shooting near the falls the spray can precipitate calcium carbonate on your front lens surfaces, and your eyeglasses too. I use older UV filters to protect the delicate lens coatings, and bring a hand towel to wipe off the persistent water blowing your way. An ounce of prevention is worth, well you know the rest! And obviously this requires a quality tripod matched to the combined weight of your camera and lens, plus a release to do long exposures. LED lights and extra batteries complete the kit, and all you need then is a clear night sky to make some magic.

Fern grotto below Mooney Falls.

Fern grotto below Mooney Falls.

Just to the left of old Navajo Falls was a green misty watery groove we called the Grotto. A small but realistic slice of Hawaii concealed in the parched Southwest, it was overwhelming in both beauty and mystery and is now forever gone. Luckily, fate gave us Rock Falls and New Navajo Falls, and these are actually the first waterfalls you’ll see as you hike the dusty trail down from the village of Supai. New Navajo Falls is well off the trail, but has a decided edge in grandeur over Rock Falls, which is more approachable and easier to shoot. Plan to spend a early morning here, catching the warm reflection of the dawn light off the sheer canyon walls on the cool blue waters of Havasu Creek, with intensely green water plants adding to the color palette.

Rock Falls, Havasupai, Arizona

Rock Falls, Havasupai Reservation, Arizona.

After exploring both of the new Navajo Falls and the gem that is Havasu Falls, cinch up for a bit of adventure, the cliff trail down to Mooney Falls. This winding, steep trail descends 200’ through travertine passages and then hold on to the steel cables the last 70’ to terra firma. A mid-size photo backpack will fit through the maze but don’t forget your tripod as you’ll need it for the intense falls experience below. I’ve shot Mooney Falls as a pure scenic many times, so this time I carried down my inflatable kayak, and drafted my friends to paddle the pool below the falls. Not for the faint of heart, but on a hot summer afternoon you’ll never be cooler or more invigorated!

I photograph cities and destinations for many clients, but my heart truly lies in showing friends exploring the natural world, and the challenge I made to myself was to get the wild spirit of the place and the kayaking into some key images. Never have I heard of someone kayaking the waterfalls of Havasupai, and Havasu Creek, and many questions were posed as to where we were going from here. I was tempted to say down the Colorado River to Yuma, but that was too tall a tale to spin, even for me!

Kayakers below Mooney Falls

Kayaking below Mooney Falls.

Truth is, whether you hike, ride the horse or helicopter (yes you can), into the wonderland of Havasupai, plan to stay at least two full days. Four is better, as you won’t want to leave. Bring plenty of camera batteries and memory cards, as there’s nowhere to tank up on electrons unless you stay in the Havasupai Lodge in Supai. It’s a long two miles from the village to Havasu Falls and the campground is well sited as a base to photograph the major falls. For reservations, contact the tribe at http://www.havasupaifalls.net

The water is Havasu Creek is a constant 72 degrees, perfect from mid-spring to mid-autumn, but chilly to cold in the winter. Summer afternoons are warm to hot, but the creek is always there, as it has been for countless millennia, to cool your body, thrill your soul and create future wonders in a faraway canyon in the high desert of the Southwest.


 

Kerrick James has worked as a travel journalist around the Pacific Rim and throughout the American West for 25 years, writing and shooting features for publications like Arizona Highways, Sunset, EnCompass, Natl. Geo Adventure and may others. Although his first love is adventure travel, he’s shot and covered all aspects of destination travel as well. He’s also taught nearly 50 photo workshops for Arizona Highways and his own private label, KJPhotosafaris. View his work at www.kerrickjames.com and www.kjphotosafaris.com.

 

This Birding Life by Budd Titlow

Sage Grouse Males Fighting  © Budd Titlow

Sage Grouse Males Fighting © Budd Titlow

This Birding Life is a new monthly column by NANPA Member Budd Titlow. 

SAGE GROUSE – Happy Hour on the High Plains

Image and Story By Budd Titlow

Sometimes Mother Nature provides a perfect microcosm of human life.

Many years ago, I was invited to observe an annual ritual that had all the elements of happy hour at your favorite neighborhood bar. Totally full of themselves, the males were strutting around in tight circles with their hairless chests puffed out. As they walked, they repeatedly made burping and belching sounds while aggressively posturing toward any other males that came too close to their domains. Meanwhile, all of the females skittered demurely in, out, around, and through all of the absurdly displaying males—acting as if the showboats didn’t exist.

Rather than watching patrons in a dark, after-work bar, I was driving along a Colorado high mountain sagebrush prairie at sunrise next to a “lek,” which is, appropriately enough, the Swedish word for “play.” And the clientele I was observing were chicken-sized wild birds known as sage grouse.

The largest grouse in North America, sage grouse live on the high plains of the American West—at elevations of four thousand to nine thousand feet—including populations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nevada, Utah, eastern California, and western Colorado. Read the rest of this entry »

The Bio Blitz Concept For Photography by Kevin Fitzpatrick

Bio Blitz © Kevin FitzPatrick

Bio Blitz © Kevin FitzPatrick

Text and Images by Kevin FitzPatrick

A Bio Blitz is a short (usually one-day), intense team effort to discover as many different life forms as possible in one location. This often involves researchers and the general public working together to identify as many species as possible in a 24-hour period. To date, I have photographed over 45 Bio Blitzes from California to Maine and have done four with National Geographic.

For me, the Bio Blitz compasses all that I want to communicate to my audience about conservation and biodiversity and is a wonderful way to communicate with students and their parents about science! Depending on where they live, young people might get a chance to try their hand at species identification, photography, wildlife sketching, writing about nature, or the discovery of the natural history of their area. No two Bio Blitzes will be the same, as each one will be a reflection of the local environment. It is an opportunity for youth to not only enhance their appreciation of the environment through photography, art and exploration, but also to engage in true citizen science. This can be done through the iNaturalist Mobile Application, which makes use of the Encyclopedia of Life’s Species Collections, allowing participants to document species and upload their observations to a collective map that is available freely online. Read the rest of this entry »

The Magic of Flowers by Donna Eaton

I wanted to capture all the interesting & beautiful details of this Dahlia so I chose an aperture of f/32 and filled the frame with the flower. Nikon 105mm lens, tripod, 1/30sec. f/32 ISO800. ©Donna Eaton

I wanted to capture all the interesting & beautiful details of this Dahlia so I chose an aperture of f/32 and filled
the frame with the flower. Nikon 105mm lens, tripod, 1/30sec. f/32 ISO800. ©Donna Eaton

Text and Images by Donna Eaton

When first entering a flower garden I begin to enjoy the colors, the smells and the beauty that surrounds me. As I explore the garden I start to really concentrate on the individual flowers and start the to see all the wonderful details. Flowers are a lot like people. They have faces, quirks, flaws and unique characteristics that give them personality. I look for the ones that have that something “special”. Maybe it’s just a petal that’s curved a certain way, or a color that is irresistible. As a former ballet dancer, I am drawn to the flowers that have a sense of movement and that give me the feeling that they are “dancing”. Read the rest of this entry »

7 Tips for Air Travel with Gear by Jeff Parker

© Jeff Parker

© Jeff Parker

Image and text by Jeff Parker

1) Disguise your gear. 

You don’t want your bag to scream “Expensive photography equipment inside!” so make sure it looks like any other bag—or, make it look worse (perhaps you can even have a bit of fun making it look “extra” undesirable).  Cover up or remove any easily recognizable logos like “Canon” or “Nikon.”  A bit of black electrical tape works well. 

2) Invest in the right bag.

When it comes to photography, it seems you can spend money endlessly, but I discovered through lots of experience that having the right bag for your gear constitutes money well-spent. And it’s even better money well-spent when the bag has wheels and when your “personal item” bag (e.g. your camera backpack or laptop case) has heavily padded straps. With that said, always double-check that your flight won’t be on a commuter-sized plane requiring you to check in that carry-on bag!

3) Bring only what you need.

Find out the carry-on weight allowance and work backwards from there. If you’re really organized you can keep a list of how much each piece of equipment weighs and tally it up as you pack (beginning with the weight of your bag, of course). Think in terms of what you’ll primarily photograph rather than what your secondary subject will be and pack accordingly. If you’re not sure, ask your photo-tour operator what equipment he/she recommends. 

4) Carry on all but the tough stuff.

Lugging your gear around as carry-on can get tiring so, after a while, checking it in might get tempting. When temptation arises, watch workers load and unload luggage from a plane; that should convince you to check-in only your toughest stuff (such as your tripod and head).

5) Prepare for security.

As you prepare for security open camera cases and any other equipment bags to make everything visible.  That minimizes handling of your sensitive gear by curious security-line personnel.  And don’t worry about memory cards; simply traveling through the conveyor belt won’t hurt them. 

6) Get on first.

When making reservations, request a seat near the back of the plane as these rows normally board first.  (Note: There is now one airline that boards aisle seats last no matter what the seat number is, so it’s best to check with the airline when booking.)  Now that airlines charge for checked-in bags, passengers tend to push the “carry-on” limit to the limit – this makes overhead-bin space not only tough to find, but tough to procure close by. With thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment inside, you definitely want your bag not only safely secured but secured in sight.  

7) Don’t forget to pack a change of clothes.

Remember to carry-on a change of clothing (and a toothbrush!) in case your checked-in luggage doesn’t arrive when you do.  In doing so, think in terms of what you can “pack” into the clothing you’re wearing.  You don’t want to be uncomfortable, but you might be able to store a few items in a photo vest that you are wearing to save on other carry-on space. A clean T-shirt fits into a large pocket (and doubles nicely as an appreciated small pillow or arm-rest padding on a long, international flight).

 

For more from Jeff Parker and Explore in Focus, check out his website and Facebook page. Jeff leads photo tours around the world and has upcoming workshops in Texas, Costa Rica and many other great locations. 

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. Read the rest of this entry »

From Photography to Filmmaking: Crafting an Auditory Experience

Green Heron (Butorides virescens) on Cypress knee. Big Cypress National Preserve.

Green Heron (Butorides virescens) on Cypress knee.

In last month’s column in From Photography to Filmmaking, we started to think about sound and how sound can help to shape and craft our story. Today, I’d like to expand on that a bit more and walk you through how I put together the audio for my latest short film from my project Filming Florida.

I spent the first few weeks of the year filming and photographing in south Florida and spent four or five mornings working in Sweetwater Strand in Big Cypress National Preserve. My latest short film explores the transition from night to dawn in the swamp. When I was filming this particular piece, I went about things a little differently since I was also using this as an opportunity to test out a bunch of new equipment. With all the testing of a new camera, I was not focused on recording audio. As a result, two days before the planned release of the film, I had a fully edited film, but it didn’t have any audio to go with the visuals. This afforded me a very interesting exercise–setting out specifically to record audio that matched the visuals for the film. I’m not saying that this is the best way to do it, and in fact I’d much rather capture high quality audio while I am filming, but it was a valuable experience. Take a moment to watch the film and then I’ll walk you through my approach.

Read the rest of this entry »

From Photography to Filmmaking: Starting to Listen

Small American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) laying in vegetation on edge of water.

Small American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) laying in vegetation on edge of water.

 

This is the third entry in the From Photography to Filmmaking monthly column by Drew Fulton.  To see the previous posts, visit the archives.

Photography is primarily the pursuit of a single sensory experience that of vision. We talk about composition, exposure, and focus. As we start to think more about using the moving image to tell stories, this all encompassing pursuit of vision all of a sudden must also include another sense. We have to start to listen!

During this busy holiday season, I challenge you to take a few minutes to close your eyes and just listen. I think too few of us really listen to the world around us. Take a moment and sit on a bench in the mall while doing your holiday shopping and just listen. What does the laughter of a child or the wail of a tired infant tell you about the scene? What about the distant rumble of a vacuum or the swish of an opening and closing automatic door? What sounds add to the story? What distracts you?

Read the rest of this entry »

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