Little did I know about digital photography back in 2008 when these photos were made. I had my old NIKON D200 exactly for one year in April 2008 when Joan and I visited Arches and Canyonland National Park in Utah. I didn’t even know that there were good times and bad times for landscape photography, hence that all three clicks were made when every serious landscape photographer probably sat in a bar in Moab, UT, had a drink, and waited for the killer light the evening would provide. At that time I still thought a bold blue sky was the greatest thing that could happen for making a decent image. OK, I’m kidding a little, but you get the idea…
Don’t take me wrong, I still like the photos somehow because there is of course an emotional attachment. They were shot in RAW mode, have been never published before, but thanks to shooting in RAW they allow me today, with the latest post processing software in place (Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CC 2014), to analyze what went wrong and what can be done in a future project. We are pretty close to our annual vacation. It won’t be Arches or Canyonland NP but an environment with maybe similar light conditions. Looking forward to it…
What do have these two photos in common? Not much, they weren’t even made the same day, except they were taken from the same vantage point. But, let me explain…
The first photo was made right before take off at the Chicago O’Hare Airport last Tuesday. The sky was gray, except for a few small blue slivers. While looking out the window I could see this composition coming just a second before. I made the click and I like it. All the lines lead the eye to the airplane. The clouds, the terminal building in the background, and of course the painted lines on the concrete. However, the overcast made the image look “blaahhh”. Some local saturation and overall contrast improvements in Adobe Lightroom and NIK Color Efex Pro 4, plus adding a “glamour glow” effect, and a slight vignette spawned the final result.
The second photo was made Thursday on my way back from Los Angeles to Chicago. It doesn’t happen very often but I had exactly the same seat in a Boeing 737-800 as two days before. It wasn’t exact the same airplane but the window was as dirty as on the way to LA. As I said, same vantage point…
But what a difference, the light was great and coming from behind the plane as we flew east. There were some beautiful storm clouds to the south. This is nothing extraordinarily but the key for this shot was again composition. The eye may wander between the puffy clouds in the foreground and the AA-logo with the reflection on the wing but it will always return to the interesting cloud formation that was illuminated by the setting sun.
No, it doesn’t need a big camera and lens. You can make a similar image with the camera you probably have always with you, your phone. You can’t change your position much, the pilot takes care for that, but watching the scene, the light, and the lines that unfold in front of your eye will lead you to the photo you may have always envisioned…
Today’s photos leave no doubt about that I’m on the road, means on a business trip. On the flight from Chicago to Los Angeles yesterday I saw some nice cloud formations, had a glimpse into the Grand Canyon, and finally an unobstructed view over the skyline of Los Angeles. I really like to use these travel opportunities to improve my skills and to experiment with the lenses that are in my bag. This time the wide angle SIGMA 10-20, f/4-5.6 DC HSM was on the camera most of the time. I have this DX lens since quite a long time but still have the feeling that I don’t ”own” this lens because I haven’t dug deep enough to know all it’s capabilities. This year’s vacation trip is coming up soon and I plan to make the 10-20 an essential piece in my landscape photography tool box this time…
It was still feeding time yesterday and this morning at the wren bird box. I was too busy with other things this evening and don’t know if the young House Wrens have left their nest today or not. I guess I’ll find out tomorrow morning…
My blog says “Nature Photography” but I enjoy walking off my own beaten path sometime. I do this more often than you may think but I don’t publish much outside of this genre. Yesterday we went to “Dubuque… and All That Jazz”, a Friday night concert series that takes place ones a month during the summer in downtown Dubuque. 10 of Soul was the the band last night and they played some great soul, funk, r&b, and blues music. I didn’t take my photography efforts too serious, just enjoyed the music, food, and beer, but made a few clicks during the evening. 10 of Soul has a great rhythm section, a four-piece horn section, and some very good vocalists. The two female vocalists got the best light (sorry guys!) and so most of their shots were sharp enough to be shown here.
I used my favorite Photoshop plug-in NIK Silver Efex Pro 2 to do the B&W post processing. A KODAK Tri-X 400TX Pro film preset was my starting point, just because I like the look of this film for these shots, but I fine tuned it to my personal taste. A selenium toning was applied and I also lowered the grade of the film grain a little. I hope you enjoy!
When I told you a few days ago that it will be quiet for the rest of the summer, because the little House Wrens had left their nest box, I did not know that in one of the other boxes at the edge of the woods another female was still sitting on her eggs. Well, since a few days we can hear their hungry chatter and the parents deliver insects and spiders every few minutes. We are very happy that we had four successful broods just within the range of our house this year. The parents approach the box always very carefully, especially if there is a guy with a tripod and camera not far from the nest.
I highly respect their privacy and use the full range of the long lens to make these images. By watching them for a while I knew that the old birds would always first land in a shrub nearby, then fly to a tree branch above the nest, before they finally go to the hole in the box with their food. Knowing the critters biology and habits leads to more photo opportunities and quite often to better results.
Although we have swallowtail butterflies in considerable numbers here in our neck of the woods since quite a few weeks, it’s getting more difficult to make a decent photo of one of them. No, it’s not the light, which can be quite harsh in early August sometime, but they just look frayed towards the end of their life span. The photos I show you today are already a few days old and the butterflies still appeared in their full beauty.
You may look at the images and think, these are two different species, but they are all Eastern Tiger Swallowtails. While the males are always yellow, the females can be either yellow or black. I have not seen a black female very often but it seems this year one is paying us a visit every day.
Thank you for stopping here in the blog. I wish all of you a wonderful summer week!
I had some other things in mind for today’s blog post but this one is fresh out of the camera. I went to the Mississippi this evening again and wanted to check if the Sandhill Cranes use the same spot as last year to spend the night. It was a nice tour with the kayak but I didn’t see or hear any cranes. Instead this Great Blue Heron was standing in the reeds where the cranes used to rest for the night.
The sun was diffused by a cloud and the light was nice and soft. I used a little fill flash in order to manage 1/250s of exposure time and to boost the colors. Remember, in the boat I have to handhold the heavy lens and shooting with a slower speed didn’t deliver a sharp image today.
Beside having great fun to paddle the Upper Iowa River last weekend another area drew our attention Saturday evening. Cardinal Marsh State Wildlife Area in Winneshiek County was not very far away from our campsite. I read about some interesting bird sightings there recently and wanted to find and explore it while we visited the area.
We saw geese, herons, several shore birds, and probably a vireo, most of them far away, and we didn’t have enough time before sunset to make a halfway decent approach to get closer. The marsh with its ponds and meadows is definitely a place I like to revisit with more time on-hand.
It was a great delight for us to discover a couple of Sandhill Cranes and I got totally excited when they started to perform one of their their dancing displays, which lasts about thirty seconds. Here is what I found about it on the website of the National Wildlife Federation:
>> Sandhill cranes mate for life. When they form a pair bond, it can last for years until one of the cranes dies. After a mate passes away, the surviving crane will seek out a new mate. In the early spring, as sandhill cranes are migrating to their breeding grounds, single cranes will start pairing up. A sandhill crane pair performs unison calling to create a bond. When the pair reaches the northern breeding grounds, they mate and build a nest. During mating, sandhill cranes perform dancing displays. Although the dancing is most common in the breeding season, the cranes can dance all year long. Sometimes the dance involves wing flapping, bowing, jumps and simply playing around. They might also throw a stick or some plants into the air. <<
Many of us have probably seen this ritual on TV sometime, but seeing it in real time was a very emotional moment for us. Technically seen, today’s photos are far from even my “amateur standards”. Distance and the short time window just before sunset have set the limits to work the subject harder. This is the best a Sigma 50-500 can perform under the circumstances and the photos are even a little bit cropped. It is the story telling of these images in a wonderful soft and warm light why I like to show them anyway. I hope you enjoy!
Joan, Cooper, and I went out for another paddle adventure last weekend. This time we explored the Upper Iowa River, northwest of Decorah, Iowa. This is a very popular river among paddlers and people that just want to drift downstream in an inner tube. We used a shuttle service on both days that brought us and our kayaks to an access point of our choice upstreams and then we paddled several hours back to our campsite in Bluffton, Iowa.
I didn’t take the camera with me on Saturday because we had never paddled a river with partly fast flowing water and ripples before. After the first tour I felt more comfortable and really wanted to make some images of this gorgeous river valley and the rocks and bluffs. Sunday was also a lot more quiet and we saw more wildlife than the day before.
Creating the photos was a little like making lemonade out of vinegar. The wonderful sunny weather created of course some very harsh light, but this was the only challenge that I had to face beside keeping the gear dry.
My subject is the landscape and I used the canoes and kayaks on the water mainly to create some scale for the image. Since we paddled part of the river the day before I had already some ideas where to stop. By using the reflections of the bluffs and rocks on the water as part of the composition I tried to give the scene in these photos a romantic touch.
We have paddled only a few sections of the Upper Iowa River yet, but there is a lot more to explore and we really want to go back there. And the dog? Well, Cooper “The Kayak-Hund” decided to jump out of the boat into the water a couple times, always at moments when he was not supposed to do it… But this is the fun you have when a dog is on board…
This is our “house frog”, a little Common Gray Tree Frog. It lives on our balcony, under a canopy of grape vine leaves and between flower pots that we have outside during the summer. The 4 – 5 cm long (1.5 – 2 inch) frog is always good for a surprise and we see it quite often. The Gray Tree Frog can change its color in seconds and this helps it to blend in with tree bark or leaves. They are nocturnal and spend the day resting in trees and shrubs, or like this one, in the plants on our balcony. One of the most interesting facts is that the frog is capable of surviving freezing of their internal body fluids to temperatures as low as -8°C (17.6°F).
It took me quite some time to figure out how to light my subject and to make these photos in very low light between the branches of a Crassula ovata plant. Luckily the frog was cooperative and didn’t move too much. The best results were obtained by using a camera off flash, pointing upward, and using just the light that bounced back from the grapevine leaves that grow above.