A Day at a Lake: Exploring the Hidden Gems of a Common Subject

By F.M. Kearney

There was nothing particularly special about it, and it was completely hidden from view. In order to reach it, you had to walk to the rear of the property and go down a short trail leading to a clearing. The only reason I knew about it was because I Googled the location beforehand. It was just a small lake… so small it didn’t even have a name. Nevertheless, I couldn’t wait to explore it.

Several years ago, my wife and I went on a short, weekend getaway to The Poconos. We stayed at a vacation resort in the town of Bushkill, PA. The resort was best known for its golf course, but I was only interested in one thing… the lake.

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A Passion for Wildlife Photography, Part I

Ten Tips for Better Photographs

Eastern Cottontail siting on fence nibbling on grass. Photographed on Assateague Island.
Eastern Cottontail siting on fence nibbling on grass. Photographed on Assateague Island.

Story and Photos by Irene Hinke-Sacilotto

Inspiration 

Why is wildlife my favorite subject to photograph? To begin, I inherited love of animals from my father. He lived in Baltimore’s inner city in a row house with 12 siblings, but escaped whenever possible, walking great distances beyond the city limits, into the woods, with his dog by his side. I am grateful for the knowledge he shared and reserving time to take me for walks in the woods, turning over logs looking for salamanders and looking up into treetops for squirrels. He instilled in me an appreciation for nature and love of animals, no matter how common or unusual.

The Eastern Gray Squirrel is commonly found on the east coast of the U.S.  They are known for their acrobatic skills. With specialized feet that you can see here, they can hang upside-down on trees trunks, run along the top of a fence, and gain access to the most sophisticate bird feeders.
The Eastern Gray Squirrel is commonly found on the east coast of the U.S. They are known for their acrobatic skills. With specialized feet that you can see here, they can hang upside-down on trees trunks, run along the top of a fence, and gain access to the most sophisticate bird feeders.

Engagement & Mindset

I am curious by nature and love the challenges that wildlife photography presents to include locating animals and anticipating behavior. For me, the pursuit of wildlife photography has a calming influence in my life. I call it “Photo Yoga”. When observing animals, my attention is totally focused on the subject. Negative thoughts, worries, and concerns disappear. Immersed in the moment, I often instinctively sense what is going to happen next as my subconscious recalls past encounters and visual cues. Even if I never take a shot, each encounter provides me with a mental database that helps me take better images in the future and with stories to share. The observations are often interjected in my presentations for camera clubs and shared with friends. For some photographers, post processing is the favorite part of rendering an image. For me, my greatest joy is capturing images in the field.

Humor is infectious. I had to laugh when watching this young Black-tailed Prairie Dog playing with the tail of its sibling.
Humor is infectious. I had to laugh when watching this young Black-tailed Prairie Dog playing with the tail of its sibling.

Patience & Perseverance

Patience and perseverance are critical for capturing great images of wildlife behavior. Maybe nothing is happening at the moment. But if you wait, conditions may change. I stay focused but am open to other potential photo opportunities, different than those I originally had in mind.

This wallaby mom and her joey hung out near my room at O'Reily's Guest House in Australia. I looked for the pair each day when I walked passed the area. One day, both were in the open and they allowed me to capture these and other images.
This wallaby mom and her joey hung out near my room at O’Reily’s Guest House in Australia. I looked for the pair each day when I walked passed the area. One day, both were in the open and they allowed me to capture these and other images.
I spent a long time with this pair of wallabies and took a number of photos of them. This one shows the size of the joey. I suspect junior may shortly be too large to be fit in mom's pouch.
I spent a long time with this pair of wallabies and took a number of photos of them. This one shows the size of the joey. I suspect junior may shortly be too large to be fit in mom’s pouch.

Knowledge, the Key to Success

The more you know about your subject, the better your photography. Careful observation of animal behavior and research are crucial. Now web searches make gathering information much easier than years ago. Talking to researchers, hunters, fellow photographers, and birders can be quite helpful in identifying new locations for wildlife photography. Often, they can provide insight into the behavior I am observing and help me anticipate what might happen next.

I saw this Great Egret beginning to stretch after sitting on this branch for a long time. It extended its wing and then stretched its leg. I was lucky to capture this image at the exact moment that the bird's leg was extended with the wing behind.
I saw this Great Egret beginning to stretch after sitting on this branch for a long time. It extended its wing and then stretched its leg. I was lucky to capture this image at the exact moment that the bird’s leg was extended with the wing behind.
After this Belted Kingfisher caught a crab, it shifted the position of the crab in its bill a number of times trying to swallow it. By taking a series of photos in rapid succession, captured this shot at the exact moment that the crab's claw showed against the background.
After this Belted Kingfisher caught a crab, it shifted the position of the crab in its bill a number of times trying to swallow it. By taking a series of photos in rapid succession, captured this shot at the exact moment that the crab’s claw showed against the background.

Relax and Let your Imagination Soar

Give up preconceptions or labels. Keep an open mind with child-like curiosity and enthusiasm. Be flexible and experiment. Move and change your camera angle. I might lie on my back for an interesting point of view or shoot while lying on my belly. Zoom out for wider views of the surrounding or increase magnification to capture detail. Sometimes I give myself assignments designed to stretch my imagination. At times, I will go into the field with a single lens or concentrate on capturing patterns, reflections or abstract images. Or, instead of using a fast shutter speed to freeze action, I might limit myself to much slower speeds to produce images that are more impressionistic.

Ribbon Snake photographed on a South Texas Ranch while lying on my belly for a unique point of view.
Ribbon Snake photographed on a South Texas Ranch while lying on my belly for a unique point of view. Ribbon Snake

Identify the Attraction

When photographing, it is important to identify what initially attracted you to the subject. Is it rim-light, texture, patterns, repeating elements, reflections, detail, surprising behavior, unique appearance, etc.? Once you realize what caught your attention when you first encountered the subject, you can select the lens, approach, and lighting that will best capture the image. I tend to look for shots that tell a story and show unique behavior.

Click here to read Part 2 of A Passion for Wildlife Photography Photography which was published on February 26, 2020.

Irene Hinke-Sacilotto is a frequent judge and speaker at camera clubs with programs on wildlife, bird, nature, and garden photography as well as on locations such as the Pantanal, Assateague Island, Chincoteague NWR, and Tangier Island. For many years, she has taught photography classes and has lectured at Johns Hopkins University and other educational institutions. Additionally, she has written “How To” articles on nature photography for national publications such as Shutterbug’s Outdoor and Nature Photography, Outdoor Photographer and Birding. Her images have appeared in magazines, calendars, and books published by National Wildlife Federation, Natural History Society, National Geographic, Audubon, and Sierra Club. Credits include the book, “Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, an Ecological Treasure.”  

For more than 35 years, Irene has shared her photographic experiences and love of nature with thousands of individuals through more than 200 photo classes, workshops, lectures, and tours in both the U.S. and abroad including Kenya, Iceland, Newfoundland, the Falkland Islands, and the Brazilian Pantanal. Recent photo workshops include South Dakota Badlands, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), Chincoteague NWR, Assateague National Seashore, the Outer Banks, the Hermitage, Norfolk Botanical Gardens, West Virginia Mountains, and Tangier Island. Program sponsors include zoos, nature centers, and conservation organizations such as National Wildlife Federation, the National Aquarium, the Baltimore Zoo, and the Assateague Island Alliance. 

See more of Irene’s work at www.ospreyphoto.com or on Facebook.

Articles Wanted. Help Provided.

Tired of staring at a blank screen?  Let NANPA help you write a great blog article.
Tired of staring at a blank screen? Let NANPA help you write a great blog article.

Have you got a story to tell?  Photography advice to share?  Expertise in or a passion for some aspect of nature photography or the gear and technology we use?  Nature photographers are pretty darn good behind the camera but not everyone is so good in front of a keyboard.  That’s why we’re excited to announce that a professional ghostwriter has volunteered to help NANPA members craft their thoughts into articles for the NANPA Blog.

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From the Archives: The Complexity of Simplicity

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Story & photo by F. M. Kearney

I’m often amazed at just how much subconscious thought and planning goes into the creation of a “simple” photograph.

A couple of years ago I was in the Thain Family Forest of the New York Botanical Garden. Located in the center of the 250-acre garden, this forest is the last remaining tract of original forest that once covered most of New York City.

I was initially attracted to a rustic log fence at the entrance to one of the forest trails. Seeing it as the perfect foreground element to lead a viewer’s eye into the photo, I positioned my tripod in the center of the trail and leveled it to the height of the fence. This was the best perspective to show the lines converging as they disappeared around the bend in the distance.

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Check Your Camera Strap!

photo of a camera with strap that has quick release attachments.  Failing to properly fasten these connections can lead to a dropped camera.
I almost lost my camera when the quick release attachments (circled) on my strap were not properly fastened.

Maybe something similar has happened to you.  I was photographing along the Oregon Coast.  My camera was on a tripod, it was windy and my camera strap was bouncing around causing vibrations, so I unclipped it.  So far, so good.  When I was done, I clipped the strap back on and took the camera off the tripod . . . and almost dropped it into the surf because I hadn’t secured the strap clips properly.

November is International Check Your Camera Strap Month, an annual event created by a couple of . . . you guessed it . . . camera strap manufacturers.  But, before you dismiss this as a publicity stunt (which it absolutely is) let’s look at the reasoning behind it.

Surveys of camera manufacturers and camera repair facilities indicate that “impact damage” is the most frequent type of repair.  While not all camera crashes are caused by strap problems, enough are to make this topic worth examining.  I can’t prevent myself from being clumsy but I can do some simple things to protect my gear.  And, one of the simplest is to regularly check my camera strap.

I love the ability to quickly unclip my strap.  It comes in so handy in situations like that windy beach, where the flapping strap could ruin my photo.  But it’s all too easy to clip the strap back in quickly, without thinking and without making sure it’s secure.  It’s also all too easy for camera strap attachments to loosen up over time, especially with all the use (and abuse) we put them through.

So, let’s take advantage of International Check Your Camera Strap Month to cultivate some new habits.  Let’s regularly check our straps and double check the connections every time we reattach the straps. 

There are many kinds of camera straps, which give us tons of flexibility in how we use our gear.  Properly used straps can make carrying our gear much easier and prevent a lot of falling camera accidents.  But only if they are properly attached.

Get Connected to the Underworld: Discover the Beauty of the Underside of Flowers

Rear of floribunda roses shot from below.
Rear of floribunda roses shot from below.

Story and photos by F. M. Kearney

Flowers are definitely one of the most popular subjects in nature photography. They’ve been photographed with limited depths of field to convey a soft, romantic look. They’ve been photographed with large depths of field to show the abundance of a large group. Sometimes, the sun is included for a more dynamic shot. A vast array of special effects have been employed to produce some truly stunning imagery. Indeed, flowers have been photographed in every conceivable way imaginable. However, the one way in which I hardly ever see is from the rear. I did a Google search of “Creative Flower Photography,” and out of the 100 or so results, only 2 or 3 photos featured the backside. That’s a shame because so many great opportunities are going unrealized.

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Ephemeral: Photographing in Arches National Park

Sensuous Double Arch casts its mesmerizing spell on all who stand in awe at its base.
Sensuous Double Arch casts its mesmerizing spell on all who stand in awe at its base.

Story & photos by Jerry Ginsberg

The dictionary defines ephemeral as transient.
e-fem-e-ral —  Temporary, or passing, as changing as the rocks.

Maybe not.

In the case of the rock formations that dot and decorate our Earth, we could also add, “in transition” for the rocks do not stay the same. Even though they may look to us mortals that they do, it is only because we are changing faster than are they. Sometimes.

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Urban Nature

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney

How can I crop out the edge of that building?

Has the traffic completely cleared the scene yet?

Are those tourists ever going to move?

If you’ve ever tried to shoot nature photos within an urban environment, you’ve undoubtedly asked yourself questions like these at one time or another. I often write about the difficulties of pursuing a career as a nature photographer in a large metropolitan city. It’s not always economically or logistically possible to escape city limits and venture into the wild to capture true nature. You sometimes have no choice but to shoot nature wherever you can find it—amidst all the inherent distractions of a concrete jungle.

I used to go to great lengths to avoid any man-made objects in my nature photos, believing that any hint of urban artifacts would lessen the impact of the natural subject. This would be true if the objects were only in the shot due to careless oversight. However, it’s an entirely different story if their inclusion is deliberate and done for creative purposes.

Cities come alive with color in the spring. You probably won’t have to go far to find a beautiful flower display. Instead of attempting to isolate it from its surroundings, try to incorporate the natural and the artificial worlds.

Looking down Park Avenue

Looking down Park Avenue

In New York, colorful tulips adorn the median of Park Avenue for several miles. With the traffic zooming by just a few feet away, it’s amazing that they survive. Yet, not only do they survive in this inhospitable environment, they flourish. And for a couple of weeks during the season, they really put the “park” in Park Avenue. Countless tourists photograph these flowers each year, but very few hang around until twilight. That’s too bad (well, it’s great for me since I practically have the whole place to myself), because the city and traffic lights add a lot of vitality to the scene. Instead of waiting for the traffic to clear out of the shot in the photo above, I waited for it to enter. I wanted to use the light trails from passing vehicles as a dynamic framing element for the tulips, as well as a way to help draw the viewer’s eye into the shot. I chose this particular spot in between two glass towers for more symmetry and more colorful light reflecting off the windows. Lastly, I used a 16mm fisheye lens to emphasize the “tunnel” effect of the scene. Continue reading

The “Old School” Graduated ND Filter

It is easy for digital photographers to get lazy out in the field — “Oh, I can fix it digitally, later. . . .”

There is nothing necessarily wrong with that approach, but I like to try to get it right in the field, preferably all in one shot. And sometimes that takes a few tricks.

Take the image below I just photographed.

A long exposure can give a nice abstract feel to an image. Using a polarizer slows down your shutter speed about 2 stops helps give you that longer exposure. Combined with a small aperture and low ISO, I had a nice long 30 second exposure to really abstract the water on the lake.

But what about the sky?  It is a lot brighter than the darker foreground here and will overexpose.  I could shoot it in two different exposures and add in the properly exposed sky later, but I’d rather get it one shot.

So I pulled my 3 stop Graduated Neutral Density filter out of my bag and held it over the lens to bring down the light in the bright sky and equalize the exposure.  Voila – you get the image all in one shot. A little more work up front, sure, but worth it to me. (And less work on the computer, later!).

Sean Fitzgerald

Dock at Sunset on Bitter Lake