This photo workshop celebrates Autumn in Southern West Virginia near the New River Gorge. The program is designed for those with a basic knowledge of the operation of a 35 mm SLR digital camera with an interest in nature photography. Workshop emphasis is on improving photographic skills, creativity, and optimizing the use of your camera. The workshop includes an orientation PowerPoint program followed by instruction and photography in the field. Included is a critique/review of images from the weekend. Topics covered: 1) equipment selection, 2) composition, 3) metering and exposure, 4) lighting, 5) basic image manipulation and 6) locating, approaching and photographing wildlife. Beginning and advanced photographers are welcome. The workshop is timed to coincide with peak fall color in the region.
Locations visited include the Rim of the New River Gorge, Grandview, Sandstone Falls, Cathedral Falls, and Babcock State Park with the Glade Creek Grist Mill among other sites..
Includes accommodations based on double occupancy, orientation, field instruction, and image review. Limited to 8 participants.
As a nature photographer I feel very fortunate to own forestland. I regularly visit one of our properties on the border of the Renous River in Northern New Brunswick, about 35 minutes from where I live. This is quite a wild area, dominated by forest with few people.
There are many nature photo opportunities here, including several species of mammals such as Moose, White-tailed Deer, Coyotes, Black Bear, Red Fox, Weasel, and Bobcat, just to name a few. However, because they often avoid humans, it’s a challenge to get good photos of some of these species.
My small trailcam has allowed me to capture some photos and see what is around, but the quality of the photos is not great, especially when compared to a high-resolution DSLR. That’s when I got the idea of building a DSLR camera trap based on discussions with colleagues and a bit of research.
There are great ready-made system available, such as those by Cognisys, but I already had an old DSLR body, lenses and one flash just lying around not being used much and I realized I could make my own camera trap without too much effort. An Internet search for “DSLR Camera Trap” will produce several articles and videos you can review. For example, see this one.
Black Bear, Renous, New Brunswick (September 2018).
The home-made camera trap
Warning! This camera trap is not bear proof. Although I have several photos of Black Bears, I think I have been lucky that none of them haven taken a swipe at the equipment. The housings keep stuff dry and clean, that’s about it. There are more sophisticated and sturdy camera traps that can be built using hard Pelican cases, but they are also more costly.
Here are the main components I used:
Canon EOS Rebel XSI (450-D) DSLR with 18-55 mm Canon EFS lens,
2 Canon Speedlite 580EX flashes (Nikon SB-28 flashes have been recommended because they hold their charge well, even when sleeping),
2 E-TTL cables for Canon about 10-15 feet long (Vello brand),
Vello Freeware Stryker lightning/motion infra-red sensor + 10-foot cable to connect to remote port on camera,
2 battery packs for each Canon flash, each one holding 8 rechargeable AA batteries,
UV filter 86mm diameter and lens cap for the housing that will hold the camera (doesn’t have to be exactly 86mm – but in that ballpark. A larger diameter is even better),
Twin flash hot-shoe mount (Andoer brand),
Two tripod heads,
Screw and washers to hold camera in place in housing,
Tupperware / plastic housings for camera, flashes and IR sensor,
Wooden poles and brackets for flashes,
Rope, fasteners and bungee cords,
Camo paint, and
24 AA batteries and 2 AAA batteries – all rechargeable (I recommend Panasonic Eneloop Pro).
Many of the above components are available at Amazon. The cost will vary based on what you need but I consider this a very basic system in terms of sophistication and cost. Depending on what spare equipment you have lying around it can cost anywhere between $400 to over $1,000.
Camera Trap, Renous, New Brunswick (March 2018).
First you need to find housings that will fit the camera, flashes and IR sensor. I purchased plastic containers with lids at a local hardware store and modified them to fit the components and cables. You may have to hunt around to find what fits best. You will need to drill holes for cables and tripod mounts (Photo 5). In my case, I made holes with an old soldering iron because I found that melting the plastic worked better than drilling which cracked the plastic.
The trickiest part is fitting the camera housing with a UV filter. You will need to cut out a round hole and carefully fit the filter. Check out this video to see how. I fixed mine in place with “Shoe Goo” and found that this worked well. While I was working with the filter, I covered the glass with paper (held in place with scotch tape), so that none of the materials I was working with could smear the glass. I also fitted the camera housing with an overhanging second lid (attached with Velcro) to prevent rain and dirt from touching the lens.
For the flash housings, I cut out an area of the container and glued a piece of see-through plastic (from a pop plastic bottle) so that the light from the flash could exit. I also used Shoe-Goo to do this and covered the plastic to avoid smearing some on it. On the DSLR and flash housing I added 2 U-bolts on each side in case I wanted to fasten them to trees. I used a flat piece of aluminum I had laying around to re-enforce the area where the U-bolt was fixed, since the plastic housings are not that solid.
In order to adjust the width and reach of the IR sensor beam I cut a slot in the bottom of the housing so that I can slide the sensor back and worth – sliding it back into the housing helps narrow the beam.
There was quite a bit of trial and error involved, and I did ruin a few containers! My last step was to put a few coats of camo paint on the housings.
Enjoying a winter outing on a beautiful day – Renous, New Brunswick (March 2018).
Typically, I need to carry this set-up by walking through the woods or snowshoeing, so it has to be portable. In my case, I use a camera bag to fit some of the components, and the rest goes into a cloth bag that I carry or strap on top of my camera bag.
I usually look for animal tracks or trails and areas where the animals may be walking towards the camera trap or passing in front of it. I strap the camera housing to a tree and the two flashes and IR sensor are mounted on my homemade poles and brackets. I drive the poles into the ground ahead of time using the back of an axe. I always carry a small axe to clear branches which I then use for camouflage if needed. I position one flash on each side of the camera and point them at the target area (where the animal will hopefully be!) at about a 45 degree angle.
The next step is adjusting the camera and flashes. Here are some typical settings I would use:
DSLR: F14 with speed of 1/200 synchronized to flash; ISO 400; Manual focus; Burst mode (or continuous drive).
Flashes: Manual mode set anywhere from 1/4 to 1/16 power. In the winter, the snow provides a lot of reflection so I can reduce flash power to 1/16.
I set the camera focus manually before securing it in the housing. I always put a bit of tape around the lens so that I don’t accidentally change the focus while handling the camera.
Finally, I set the IR sensor to point at the spot where it will trigger the system. This is probably one of the most critical parts because it will be the first few shots that will be the most important. You don’t want the system firing off while the animal is too far or too close.
One of the disadvantages of this system is that it scares certain species due to the clicking and flash – but some obviously don’t mind, like Raccoons! An insulated housing, like a foam-lined Pelican case, would reduce noise significantly.
North American Raccoon (Procyon lotor), Renous, New Brunswick, Canada.
Lastly, turn on the camera and sensor, make sure the flashes fire and try to camouflage it as best you can with branches and leaves. To stop the clicking and make adjustments, just turn off the sensor until you are ready to leave the trap.
I find that my batteries can last 2 weeks or more, especially in the spring, summer and fall. In the winter, not so long.
Like anything, there are continual improvements, but to date I have had a few photos I am proud of. In some cases, it may be a common species but I could never approach them to get a similar shot, like the Raven. I would love to get shots more uncommon species like Bobcat, Marten or Fischer. I know they are around…but also very elusive.
Phil Riebel is an environmental consultant and avid nature photographer who lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada where he owns 200 acres of forest on the Cains and Renous Rivers. He spends many hours on his forestland fly fishing, exploring and photographing birds, mammals and nature in general. Some of his photographs can be seen at https://philriebel.smugmug.com. You can also connect with him on Facebook and Twitter or reach him by email at email@example.com.
Stories of hordes of Instagrammers descending on the super bloom attracted world-wide attention, including The Guardian from the UK. (Screen grab.)
California is in the midst of a wildflower super bloom and, along with vast fields of poppies come unruly hordes of people. The small town of Lake Elsinore was overwhelmed by “Disneyland size crowds” of up to 50,000 tourists last weekend, resulting in traffic jams, accidents and unruly behavior. “#poppynightmare” as one town official put it. This kind of chaos risks placing these locations off limits to everyone, including photographers.
The highest peak in the contiguous 48 states, at 14,496 feet, serrated Mt. Whitney rises among the mountains of the Eastern Sierra.
Story and photos by Jerry Ginsberg
When most of us think of the spectacular Sierra Nevada range that forms the spine of east-central California, we tend to visualize the towering gray granite peaks and domes of Yosemite National Park. For a long time, my association was no different. It took several years, but eventually, I discovered the many facets of the Sierras beyond Yosemite.
Running on a north-south axis through the Golden State, the eastern escarpment of the Sierras provides a stunning backdrop to some of the finest photography in the West.
As the old saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you. With more and more of us carrying more and more capable smart phones, that camera you have with you is likely to be in a phone. So, how can you take advantage of the amazing capabilities of your phone, minimize its weaknesses and capture your creative vision? Easy! Join Charles Needle for NANPA’s next webinar, “Pixels in Your Pocket: Creative iPhoneography” at 6 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday, March 5. Check it out if you want to learn more about using your smart phone for photography. Space is limited, so register now!
NANPA members can register via the webinars page in the Members Area of NANPA.org. However, while webinars are normally available only to members, NANPA is opening up “Creative iPhoneography” to everyone, so feel free to share this link with all your friends who keep asking you how you got that shot with your phone www.nanpa.org/webinars.
Then, if you really want to hone that creative vision of yours, plan on attending the “VisionQuest Photography” webinar on Friday, March 29th at 6 PM Eastern Time. Let Shane McDermott show you ways you can capture “more of the magic and true essence of everything you saw and felt in the moment.” Explore creative ways to approach photographing the wonders of the natural world through the lenses of your soul, as well as of your camera. This will be the first of a two-part presentation and is open to NANPA members only. Register through the webinars page in the Members Area of NANPA.org.
The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project interviews NANPA member Cindy Miller Hopkins.
What’s so special about a photo of five penguins? You could get that at a local zoo. Certainly, during NANPA member and travel and photographer Cindy Miller Hopkin’s trip last year to the far reaches of the South Atlantic, she had plenty of photos of penguins. But one shot, from off the South Sandwich Islands, turned out to be unique.
As she was editing and captioning her shots, Cindy noticed that there were five different species of penguins in one frame. That seemed unusual and she brought it to the attention of an ornithologist on the tour who told her he’d never seen an image with five species in the same place, at the same time. Further research revealed that no one else had either.
I was a participant in the 2017 NANPA High School Scholarship Program and spent a week in the Great Smoky Mountains working with some incredible mentors, broadening my interests in photography and learning from some very talented kids my age as well.
This program was a turning point for me–it showed me just how much I want to inspire the younger generation to learn more about conservation and photography. Working with and learning from 9 other students from across the country was not what I expected it to be. I had assumed we would all stick to the certain aspects of photography we were comfortable with, but instead we all motivated each other to try a little bit of everything.
During that week in the Smokies, I got to experiment with flash and night photography and use some of the cameras, lenses, and flashes that Canon sent to as loaners. I now have knowledge of the settings to use for star and night photography, something that will definitely come in handy for me in the future. We also hiked out to a waterfall and attempted slow motion waterfall photos to capture the blur of the water. Using the loaner flashes, we also found little salamanders and toads and used white backgrounds for the “Meet Your Neighbors” technique that Andrew Snyder, one of the mentors, taught us. Some of the kids were so in love with this new technique, it was all they did!
Do you know a talented young nature photographer? NANPA’s High School Scholarship Program is seeking 10 high school student photographers to attend a five-day field event where they can learn from the industry’s top shooters. Apply now for this immersive, hands-on education program to be held in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park July 1–6, 2019. Combining classroom and field-based instruction, students will have the chance to improve their nature photography skills, learn about NANPA, meet industry professionals, and gain an appreciation of the Smoky Mountains’ rich natural history. The last day to apply is January 31, 2019, so don’t wait. Apply now!
White-cheeked gibbon (Nomascus leucogenys) seen through bars, dangles from the door frame of his enclosure evoking a sense of frustration, boredom, loneliness at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Story & photo by Haley R. Pope
Most of what makes a wildlife photograph great is the photographer’s ability to get inside the head of the animal and show the world through their eyes. What are they thinking? How do they see their environment? How do they see us? What is their story? In other words, a photographer needs to create an emotional connection to the subject or elicit an emotional response in the viewer. Emotion creates a layer of dimensionality that help us suspend judgments and see honestly.
The rest of what makes a great photograph is the photographer’s ability to correctly, and technically, control the camera so as to represent the scene as one saw and felt it. How am I going to tell the story? What landscape elements should I include? Do I need a shallow or wide depth of field? Should I over or underexpose the shot? How fast should I set my shutter speed? Do I have enough lighting? Where should I physically be positioned? These questions should be in your mind as you think about how to communicate your message and how to set yourself up to create your photo.
The two questions I ask myself before and during every photo shoot is: 1) what story do I want to tell and 2) how am I going to craft my image so the story is clear to viewers?
A Day at the Zoo
I have never been a fan of zoos, but on a warm day in June I decided to go. After I arrived, it wasn’t difficult to decide what story to tell. I wanted to tell the story of what it’s like to be locked up against one’s will. I wanted us to put ourselves in the animal’s shoes, so to speak, so I needed the emotional connection to be strong and our similarities to be obvious. I wanted us to consider what role we should play in other animals’ lives and whether or not there is even a need for animal exhibits like zoos.
As I passed through each exhibit and looked at the faces and body language of the animals inside, I was overcome with emotions of loneliness, sadness, boredom, and frustration; emotions I felt emanating from the animals themselves. Emerging from the kangaroo exhibit, I crossed the paved walkway and entered the primate center. No animal that day seemed to express the story so noticeably or poignantly than the white-cheeked gibbon. I knew this is where I would find my shot.
I watched the male gibbon for several minutes without picking up my camera and took note of his environment and behavior. I noticed whether the gibbon made eye contact with me and how he moved around the space. Then I circled the enclosure while thinking about how I’d like to compose the shot. What elements will help drive home my message and how I should represent the being inside?
I decided to include the metal bars of the enclosure as a frame for my subject since that’s exactly what they are. I also wanted to include both man-made and natural elements to provide context and juxtaposition. Focusing on the gibbon’s body language would illustrate both how similar our bodies are and how misplaced his own seems in contrast to the surrounding concrete and metal.
At one point, the gibbon stood up from where he sat and walked towards the interior door. With his back to me, he dangled from the door by its hinges and swayed back in forth in the characteristic way of under-stimulated animals. This was it. I raised my camera and snapped the shot. But I felt guilty as I turned and left him, embarrassed that I could just walk away while he stayed there, hanging and swaying.
Nature photographers don’t typically strive to capture disturbing situations. We want to show how beautiful the natural world is, in its raw form, and how we are all connected. But that is only half the story. If we never represent the other side of reality, we can become passive and complacent. I wanted to capture the other side of reality during my zoo visit. Because all animals are part of nature and zoos are not filled with happy carefree animals. They are filled with captives.
Haley R. Pope is a zoologist and conservationist with a passion for photography and writing. She uses those mediums to explore wildlife conservation topics and share biological knowledge in a visual story-like format to inspire awe of our planet’s inherent beauty and encourage the responsible treatment of nature. As the president and owner of TerraLens Photography LLC, she offers freelance photography, writing, and photo archiving services to other companies.
Haley is also a trip leader for Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village program, which operates in more than 40 countries and builds houses for those in need. In the future, she’d like to lead ecological and photography focused trips. Connect with her below!
2019 NANPA Lifetime Achievement Award winner John Shaw
Professional nature photographer John Shaw was the recipient of NANPA’s first Outstanding Photographer Award in 1997. This year, he’s being honored with NANPA’s Lifetime Achievement Award and will also become a NANPA Fellow. Registered for the 2019 NANPA Nature Photography Summit? You can see John Shaw interviewed by Kathy Adams Smith on Saturday, February 23, at 10:30 AM.
He’s written seven books and ten ebooks and his work has been featured in numerous books and magazines. He’s photographed on every continent and has been recognized by Nikon as a Legend Behind the Lens, as an Icon of Imaging by Microsoft and, since 2001, has been part of Epson’s Stylus Pro fine art print makers group. Last month we had the opportunity to ask him a few questions.
Sunrise behind “The Wheel” on Steel Pier, Atlantic City Beach, Atlantic City, NJ
Story and photos by F. M. Kearney
Webster defines serendipity as “the faculty of making providential discoveries by accident.” In photography, it’s more like capturing that once in a lifetime shot that could not be recreated again in a million years. The internet is full of these types of images, usually classified as “Photos Taken at the Perfect Moment,” or “Things You Have to See to Believe.” Of course, almost anything you see on the internet should be viewed with a certain degree of skepticism, and even more so when it comes to photos and videos. The old saying, “The Camera Never Lies,” has never been less true than in the digital age in which we live. However, assuming that even if a fraction of these photos are, in fact, real, they truly are serendipitous moments caught on camera.
I recently spent several days in Atlantic City, NJ shooting ocean views. Most of my visits in the past have been day trips lasting only a few hours – just enough time to grab a quick lunch, lose all my money and head back home. On this occasion, I had the luxury of time on my side – time to see the real beauty of this town, beyond the bells and buzzers, and the glitzy flashing lights within its casinos’ walls.
One morning, I took a walk along the beach to The Steel Pier – a 1,000-foot-long amusement park built on a pier of the boardwalk. Its latest attraction is a 227-foot tall Ferris wheel, known as The Wheel, which began operating in 2017. I arrived just as the sun was rising behind it. My main objective was to get the surf in the perfect position – far enough into frame to be a dominant foreground element, but not so far in that it covered up the sun’s reflection on the wet sand. I also wanted to get the rising sun directly between the spokes of The Wheel. The sun’s position changes quite rapidly when it’s this low on the horizon. I took several shots and the photo above was the only one where the sun and the surf lined up in the perfect positions. This was the result of careful timing (and a little bit of luck). However, the serendipitous aspects were the inclusion of the seagull and the woman – things I had absolutely no control over. I saw when the seagull walked into the reflection during the shoot, but I didn’t even notice the woman in the background until I was reviewing the images back home on my computer. She had walked into one of the openings of the pier directly beneath The Wheel at precisely the right moment.
Another serendipitous moment was the inclusion of the honeybees in the daylily image below. I was all set to shoot the flowers when I suddenly found myself surrounded by a small group of bees. Like little helicopters on a mission, they methodically visited each flower in the area – hovered for a few seconds, then landed to pollinate. Since I already had my camera locked down on a tripod and focused on one particular bloom, I decided to wait and see if they would pay it a visit. Eventually, two bees flew into the shot and hovered close enough for my flash to cast a catch-light in their eyes. When they landed, they went down too deep into the flower to be seen, so I was lucky to get this photo of their approach.
Honeybees “photo-bombing” daylily image.
Serendipitous moments in photography are unplanned and often referred to as “lucky shots.” But you can increase your luck if you’re prepared, have a little patience and are aware of specific patterns of behavior – as in the case of the honeybees. Sometimes, however, you just get a pleasant surprise. Careful planning made the image of The Wheel a good shot. Serendipity made it one-of-a-kind.