Sunday, January 30, 2011

Photo of the Day

One of the biggest problems I have is sometimes trying to identify what in the world I just took a photograph of. I have always considered myself to be an avid outdoorsman, and fairly knowledgable about identities of many of the plants and animals I saw. When I really got back into photography and started photographing the birds, mammals, insects, and plants in detail, I wanted to be able to correctly indentify them. It is pretty embarrassing to take a good photograph of something and then not know what it is. I soon learned I was not nearly as smart as I thought I was. Even though I had been to Florida many, many times in my life, the first time I went as a passionate nature photographer I photographed this strange looking bird on the beach at Lovers Key State Park. The problem was I had no clue what it was. So when I got home I started looking through my numerous bird books to try and identify it. I soon got it correct and had my first photograph of an American Oystercatcher.  You see, we do not get those in Illinois, and it does not resemble anything close to what flies of those millions of acres of corn fields.

 Entomology,Orinthology, Botany,or Biology were not my fields of study. What I did do when I should have been studying is probably better left alone right now. Needless to say, I still often struggle to identify the many species of living things I photograph. The good thing is I do like to read, and the internet is a great resource for finding things faster than looking in outdated books. I have a lot of sites bookmarked on my computer to help me now.

Cute Little Bird taken on Ft. Myers Beach

I am pretty happy with this photograph that I posted today. The problem was it took me a while to correctly identify this little bird. I took this on Ft. Myers Beach in Florida. I was out there in the late afternoon to shoot shore birds and pelicans when I saw this little guy flitting around in some driftwood. At the time I was using an 800mm lens that I had on loan from Canon Professional Services. I backed up until I could get him in focus and then tried to track him and get some good photos of him. This was another new species for me that I had never laid eyes on that I could recall. This little bird is fast and does not sit still for more than a split second. It took quite a few shots before I thought I might have one or two decent photos of it. It sat in my archives for a long time because I was never able to identify it correctly. I assumed it was some type of Viero due to it's markings and the circle around it's eye. But after closely looking at all the vieros and studying where their ranges are, I concluded I was incorrect on that identity.

On my most recent trip to Florida this past December for some bird photography, I was in a Barnes and Noble Bookstore looking through Florida field guides and finally got the correct ID of the bird. So what is this cute little bird?

It is a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - Polioptila caerulea . I would have never gotten that one in a million years of guessing. Here is a link to get a little more information on it.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Photo of the Day

We all have photographs that we wish we could have done a better job capturing them. Even though they are not technically great, we cherish them because they have a special meaning or significance to us. This is one of a series of photographs that fit this catagory for me.

Yellowstone wolves attacking a bull elk
In mid June of  2009, I was visiting Yellowstone National Park. As per my usual luck, the weather had been pretty gray and cloudy most of the precious few days I had to visit. Late one afternoon I was making my way toward the West gate when I saw something running across the vast meadow off to my right. Wildlife sightings in Yellowstone usually bring traffic to a standstill on the narrow two lane roads, and the scene that was unfolding cause a major traffic stoppage. Although they were extremely far away from the road, it was apparant that three wolves were in hot pursuit of a male elk.

I have watched countless televison specials, movies, and videos of scenes like this, but I had never witnessed one in person. There is no comparison. While watching and trying to photograph this I actually got goose bumps. The elk jumped into a small stream to help slow the wolves down and not allow them to attack him from the rear. The Black wolf who is running from a charge by the elk in this frame can clearly be observed wearing a tracking collar in other shots. He also appeared to be the dominant wolf and lead the numerous attacks on the bull elk.

Trying to photograph this with the equipment I had was a real challenge. I was shooting a Canon 50D, and the longest lens I had was a Canon 400mm f5.6 fixed focal length lens. A super sharp lens but at f5.6 not great in low light. With that lens on they were still to small in the viewfinder so I had to add a 1.4 extender to now give me 560mm of focal length. Sill not enough, but it was the best I could do. The issue was this canceled out the auto focus on the lens and pushed it to an f8 minimum apeture with no image stabilization. Afraid I would miss the action if I tried to dig out my tripod or monopod, I just braced against my vehicle and fired away. Trying to manually focus and track moving creatures at over 500mm is not easy.   At ISO 400 I was able to get 1/1000 second on some frames at f8. I ended  up with about 20 usable frames from this amazing event. I really wished I had a better body and much bigger lens, but you just have to do the best you can with the equipment you have. None of them are great, but I cherish them and this was the highlight of this trip to see something like this.

So now you want to know the rest of the story, right? Well the elk made several attempts to get out of the stream but was forced back in by the wolves. After standing long enough to catch his breath and gather up his resolve, The bull elk charged out of the stream and went on the attack and charged at the wolves. He really went after them hard and made them turn and run. They decided he was to much for them to handle and they allowed him to trot off. But no sooner did the elk leave and I saw the wolves zero in on a lone mother bison with a young calf off in the distance. I tried to track them to see what would happen but lost sight of them behind some trees. I knew without protection of a herd, they might be able to seperate the calf from it's mother. The cycle of life is often not very pretty to watch, but it is necessary.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Photo of the Day

This is one of my favorite shots that I have processed in the NIK HDR Software that I have been experimenting with. Taken this past October while I was at the Grand Canyon, the weather for that visit had been terrible. Gray days with heavy clouds that obscured the sun totally. The HDR software allowed me to pull out all the detail and color possible.

South Rim, Grand Canyon

Monday, January 17, 2011

Photo of the Day.

I am still working with the trial version of the NIK HDR Software. I am posting 2 photos today to show the power of HDR to create really compelling photographs. I was using a Canon 5D Mark II that I had on loan from Canon Professional Services. I used a Canon 16-35 f2.8L II lens on a tripod to take an automatic 3 shot bracketed exposure from my camera. The scene is the Bartlett Reservoir located in the Tonto National Forest near Cave Creek, Arizona. The setting for the auto bracketed exposure was for the camera to shoot a best guess exposure with the camera at 100 ISO, f16, and evaluative metering. Then the next exposure will be 2 stops under exposed, and the third exposure will be 2 stops over exposed.  Focus is set manually, and the camera is set to continous shooting mode. Use a cable shutter release and hold it down until the camera has taken all three exposures.

The first photo I am posting here is the best guess exposure straight out of the camera with no additional processing. 

Best guess single exposure JPEG file

HDR Image after processing

Even processing the best single exposed RAW file in CS5 will not give me the detail and tonal range I was able to do with the HDR software. As I have stated before, I like doing HDR from the natural look all the way to the craziest stuff imaginable. It just depends on what you want to do. It will take a lot of practice, failues, trial and error, and much more learning, but I am afraid I am a true HDR convert. Now when I look at a subject or scene to photograph, I will also consider the possibility of doing it as an HDR.  


Friday, January 14, 2011

Photo of the Day

Grand Canyon, South Rim View

This is a 3 shot bracketed exposure that I took this past fall from the south rim of the Grand Canyon. The photo was processed in the newest version of the NIK HDR Software. It had been a very cloudy grey day and the light was flat and colors were really muted. I have been experimenting and trying different HDR software programs to see what works best for me. Although Photoshop CS5 has improved their HDR software a lot since CS4, it still will not truly tone map and allow you the control that other programs do. The goal on this shot was to keep the photo as natural looking as possible. I do like the really crazy results you can create with HDR software. For me it just depends on the subject matter and what I am trying to produce. For a stunning landscape such as the Grand Canyon I want the natural "what I saw" look. I have tried the Photomatix HDR software (version 3) which has been the best out  there for a long time and was considered by many as the gold standard for HDR. When I am done with my trial version of the NIK software I will try the newest Phtomatix version before I decide and purchase a software for my future HDR use.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Photo of the Day

Sand Key, Clearwater Beach Florida

It has been a brutal winter so far his year. As of today, 01-12-11, there is snow on the ground in 49 out of the 50 states in the United States. Currently only Florida is the only state that is snow free. So in honor of the Sunshine State, I am posting one of my many Florida Seascape photos. As I sit and look out at the grey cloudy skies and eye the thermometer at single digits without adding in a wind chill factor, I am wishing I was back down in south Florida. I used to make fun of the "snowbirds" who would flee the winters and head to warmer climates for several months. Now as I am getting older I am trying to figure out how I can do the same thing!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Photo of the Day

South Rim View, Grand Canyon National Park
This is a bracketed 3 shot exposure and processed in the new NIK HDR Software. The weather that day was very cold, cloudy, and windy. The light was flat and colors were very muted to the normal eye. I think this turned out better than any single exposure that I could process in Photoshop CS5.