The brisk spring air was punctuated by a gusty wind as I stood in breathless anticipation beside the main gates. Once inside, we stealthily crept up the steps of the permanent wooden blind where we could see silhouettes of thousands of birds blanketing the riverbed’s shallow channels and naked sandbars.
The world’s oldest surviving bird species, the sandhill crane still appears curiously archaic. With legs dangling and bent in an awkward landing posture, and neck and wings extended, it is reminiscent of the ancient pterodactyl, the extinct flying reptile. Fossilized remains of the sandhill have been found in Nebraska sediments dating from the Lower Pliocene, some nine million years ago. This has led scientists to theorize that today’s sandhill crane has remained unchanged since that long-ago epoch. Continue reading →
Enjoy this Interview with Melissa Groo who will be judging NANPA’s View Bug photo contest- Birds Of A Feather Photo Contest-open now for submissions. Melissa is an award-winning wildlife photographer, writer, teacher and speaker. She writes a regular column on wildlife photography for Outdoor Photographer magazine, and her photos have been published in many magazines, including Smithsonian, Audubon, and National Wildlife. Issues of conservation and ethics in photography are passions for her, but more than anything, she loves revealing the soul of her wild subjects and sharing that with others. Continue reading →
When I attended NANPA’s High School Scholarship Program (NHSSP) in 2004 in Portland, my eyes opened to exploring wildlife photography as a medium. I greatly benefited from the one-on-one instruction and support of fellow photographers, both peers and mentors. Before attending this program, I never knew all this support existed; I felt that I was exploring nature and my camera by myself. Being a scholarship winner gave me the opportunity to harness my potential. Being surrounding by world-class photographers that shared their knowledge and experience opened my eyes to the possibilities that awaited me in our magnificent world.
I live in Wyoming. Anyone who has visited the state knows it has a lot of open space. What many people don’t realize is that the area in which I live – the northwest part of Wyoming – is almost always drier and more temperate than that to the south. So when I finished several days of meetings in Casper a couple years ago, I was anxious to make the 5-hour drive home to my own bed despite the dire warnings of an incoming snow storm. I knew that if I could make it the hundred miles across the sagebrush plains and then north through Wind River Canyon, I would probably leave the worst of the winter weather behind me. Before leaving the city, I consciously packed my camera gear in the back of the car, not wanting the temptation to stop along the way.
When I presented my project on rewilding at the recent San Diego NANPA Summit, it was a Lightning Talk, so I only had six minutes to address the audience. I did not have time to explain a bit more about why I started a photo project about releasing animals back into the wild. It stems in part from spending years working on another project, which deals with less fortunate animals living in captivity. After photographing animals who had lost all freedom, I felt the need to experience animals returning to nature. But still, the project I call “Captive” is a quest I feel passionate about, especially as I have seen my photos play an integral role in the current public discourse over reforming and rethinking zoos.
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 →
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.
When I hear someone say, “I hate flash images,” it typically tells me they feel uncomfortable or do not fully comprehend how to use flash effectively. Many people state that they can always tell when flash is used as the images have a “flashed” look to them. By this they mean that the subject appears overly bright and unnaturally lit within the image. By applying varying levels of flash output, we are able control the degree of subject illumination independent of the ambient light. Keeping the flash and ambient exposure separate in your mind will help you better achieve your goal.
The image of the heron on the nest (above) is a good example of how I use flash to balance ambient light. Here are the steps I took to make this image using flash.
1. First, I used my in-camera spot meter to check the yellow background highlight and I set my exposure 1.3 stops above the mid tone (in this case, my exposure was 1/250 sec at f/8 at ISO 200).
2. Next, I focused my lens on the subject and read the distance scale on my lens (in this example, 10 ft). Since my flash was on the camera, the flash-to-subject distance was the same as the lens-to-subject distance (10 ft).
Where to check the focusing distance on your lens.
3. Then, I set my flash to manual mode, which allows me to control the flash output independent of the exposure. I used the Select button on the back of the flash, turning the dial to place the black bar even with the subject distance. (Note: Strobes will vary by manufacturer. Some use buttons, others wheels, or a combination of both to alter the flash output.) Altering the flash output moves the distance scale, and that is what you are concerned with at this point. Do not be concerned if the scale says 1:1 or 1/128. Just make sure the distance appearing on the scale (10 ft in this example) is the same as the focus distance on your lens (10 ft).
A few examples of where to find the focusing distance on your flash. Flashes set to manual.
TIP: When you zoom to alter your lens focal length, the flash will also zoom to evenly illuminate the field of view. If you take a given quantity of light and squeeze it into a narrower or wider area, the output of the flash (known as the guide number) will vary. Thus, you will need to adjust the flash power each time you change the focal length of your lens. I suggest you manually fix the flash zoom to the widest focal length you plan on using. No worries if you are shooing a fixed lens.
If all other factors remain constant (f/stop. shutter speed, ISO and background illumination), both the background and the subject will be perfectly illuminated.
If you want to get a firm grasp on how to use flash effectively, consider taking Charles (Chas) Glatzer’s STL Tech Series Flash Seminar. Chas’ work has been celebrated internationally with over 40 prestigious awards for superior photographic competence demonstrated through photographic competition, advanced education, and service to the profession. His images are recognized internationally for their lighting, composition, and attention to detail and have appeared in many publications worldwide including National Geographic, Outdoor Photographer, Popular Photography, National Parks, Discover Diving, Smithsonian, Professional Photographer, Birder’s World, Birding, Nature Photographer, EOS, Digital PhotoPro, and many more.
The desolate landscape of the South Texas Brush Country doesn’t look like much, but the biodiversity makes it one of North America’s best places for wildlife photography. It definitely ranks high on my list!
Scientists classify South Texas as a “semi-arid, sub-tropical” region. The result? Lots of wildlife! That includes a large number of bird species living at the far northern edges of their ranges.
Many—e.g. Kiskadee, Green Jay, Audubon’s Oriole, Couch’s Kingbird—are known as “South Texas Specialties.” And spring migration dramatically boosts the number of photogenic subjects that fly your way. By the end of April the summer breeders, such as Painted Buntings, Varied Buntings, and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers have arrived.
The best photography occurs when the animals grow hot and thirsty and flock to water to drink and cool off. Painted Buntings, in particular, really like their baths! This makes late-May and June prime photography time in the South Texas Brush Country. Continue reading →
Talk about landscapes in Kansas and a lot of people are going to think of the stereotypical image of Kansas – one big flat wheat field. Kansas certainly does have some flat regions, especially in the western half of the state. Kansas also has a lot of wheat fields – which are beautiful in their own right. However, Kansas has a number of unique landscapes that may surprise a lot of people. The Flint Hills are one of the unique physiographic regions of Kansas. They are an especially interesting area as they contain some of the last large contiguous areas of tallgrass prairie. The interesting topography of the Flint Hills and the flora of the tall grass prairie combine to make for wonderful photographic opportunities.
Wide open views and gently sloping hills are characteristic of the Flint Hills. I like to use a wide angle lens to try and capture the sense of space and the unique shapes that can be found out in the prairies, but short to medium telephoto lenses are also useful to bring in details of the hills and focus attention on the lines and textures of the region. Magic hour light can really bring out the contours and shapes of the hills, and sunrises and sunsets are often full of amazing colors. Continue reading →