Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Winter Photography

With the official arrival of Winter, I thought I would put together something about photographing this time of year. With the snow and sleet tapping at my window as I write this, what topic would be better for a blog post?

Winter is one of my favorite times to get out and explore with my camera. The crowds are gone, the air is usually much clearer and with the leaves gone, it's to find critters to watch. A little snow on the ground also makes it easier to find signs of those critters, not to mention how the snow looks on the trees.

The lighting this time of year can be very dramatic with sun much lower on the horizon that it is at othet times of the year. That light coming in at a low angle can add dramatic shadows and texture to your photos.

That low sun also means that the magic hour lasts longer. I'm not a big fan of the short days of winter but there is a positive side to that. With the sun setting so early in the evening, you don't have to worry about staying up late in order to photograph them. :)

The patterns Mother Nature carves into the frozen landscape of drifted snow and ice are only temporary. If you see a photograph, take it! That great photo you saw today may be gone tomorrow. When I spotted this shelf of ice along this creek, I knew there was a photogrph in there somewhere. When I left, I wasn't sure I had what I wanted so I planned on going back the next day. That night we got several inches of snow that completely covered the ice. The shot I had pictured in my mind the day before was gone. I'm glad I took the time to photograph the ice when I did.

Frost is another aspect of winter that I love. Whether it's the intricate patters of frost on a window, or the thick white icing that clings to everything in site, the photo opportunities are endless. The frost never seems to stick around long so be sure to take advantage of the opportunity when it presents itself.

Don't be afraid of the cold. Get out there and capture the beauty of this great time of year. Stay warm!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fall in Grand Teton National Park

I have wanted to make a trip to Grand Teton National Park in the fall for several years now. This year I finally made the trip. I was goal was to photograph the spectacular aspens and cottonwoods as they displayed their fall colors with the majestic Teton range in the background. The weather was colder than expected and the colors were not quite as I had hoped. Still great, but just not what I had pictured in my mind.

It snowed almost every day of my trip. I love the snow and wanted to photograph fall color with a bit of snow so I was thrilled when the white powder fell from the sky. What I was not so thrilled about was the cloud cover. The clouds persisted all week long and only allowed me to view the Teton peaks on one day of my visit. This development was a bit disappointing, but not enough to discourage me. It forced me to look for photographs that may not have been on my list when I originally planned the trip. Finding pockets of color here and there to focus my lens on instead of the huge grand landscapes that our National Parks are know for was a great way to create unique views of the park.

I did create some landscape images that I'm very happy with as well despite the less than perfect weather.

The wildlife in Grand Teton National Park was very cooperative on this trip. I had planned on hitting some hiking trails on this trip but the easy access of wildlife kept me occupied. On one day I had planned to make a quick visit to Oxbow Bend before heading to a trailhead. I came across some moose and ended up spending the next four hours with them, and never did make it to a trailhead that day.

The biggest thing that I came away with from this trip was to be prepared for the unexpected. By being flexible with my photography I was able to create some very nice images that I hadn't planned on creating. Some of my favorite images from this trip were not images that I had even considered making before I left home.

To see more photos from this trip please visit:

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Moving Wall

A trip to Washington view, and photograph the many memorials, especially the Vietnam War Memorial, has been on my list of things to do for a very long time. When I found out that the Moving Wall was going to be in a neighboring town, I knew I had to go. The Moving Wall is a 1/2 size replica of the Vietnam Wall Memorial that travels around the country. For more information on The Moving Wall and to find out if it will be displayed near you, please visit

On our first trip to the Moving Wall, I was a little surprised. There was a big crowd, but the experience didn't take on the somber feeling that I thought it would. The crown was milling around the wall, kids were running around, and babies were screaming. It seemed more like tourist attraction than a memorial for people to pay their respects. I'm happy to say that I don't know anyone who has their name on the wall and I'm sure that had something to do with the way I felt

With the sun setting behind the wall, I knew I had to come back early in the morning when the light would much better for photography. I was up early the next day and at the wall just before sunrise. I was the only one there besides the volunteers working at the memorial. Being at the Wall by myself gave the memorial a completely different mood than it had the day before. This was the somber feeling that I was expecting to experience. Being there alone gave me the time to explore the Wall and the letters, and memorials that others had left behind in remembrance of their lost loved ones.

Reading the words that others had left behind, with tears in my eyes, was the experience that I hoped I would feel at the Wall.

As the sun got higher in the sky a few people started to trickle in. Seeing these small numbers of people quietly paying their respects, and looking for the names of their loved ones really reinforced the true meaning of what the Wall stands for. The Wall is not meant to be a "tourist attraction" which is the feeling I got on that first day. Seeing, and feeling the true meaning of what the Wall represents made me happy that I choose to go back and experience the Wall by myself.

Spending time viewing The Moving Wall was a great experience for me. It reinforced my desire to visit Washington D.C. to see The Wall.

A big thank you to all of the brave men and women of our armed forces. Your service to our country does not go unnoticed.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Mini Vacation / Scouting trip

Amy and I took an extended weekend and headed for the north woods for a few days. We camped on Perch Lake with Holley, our black lab, and Jinjer, our golden retriever.

My goal for this trip was to relax, and scout out a location for a photo trip for next spring. The main subject I was looking for was the common loon. It's a little too late for the loons to have chicks riding on their backs, but that's OK. I don't have any loon images in my portfolio, so just getting a nice photo or two was one of my goals.

Another goal I had was to try to take photographs from a canoe. I want to purchase a kayak or a solo canoe to take photos from, and I thought this would be a good test. I rented a canoe and went out in search of the common loon. I was in luck as there were 2 loons on the lake. Photographing out of the canoe provided me with a way to get close enough to the birds to make some nice photographs, but it was a bit of a challenge. I used a monopod and turned my ISO up a bit to try to get a fast enough shutter speed to help avoid camera shake do to my use of a long lens. It took some time, and lots of patients, but I was happy with many of the images I created on the lake. I only had good light, and good weather on one day, so I was glad that I went out when I did.

Besides the loons, there was also an osprey nest along the lake. Without the canoe, I never would have found this. I didn't get many chances for osprey photos, but it's good to know for next springs trip.

There were also beavers living in the lake. This was first noticed while relaxing on the shore as a beaver swam towards us. When I saw it getting closer, I went to the car to get my camera. As I was setting up, Jinjer saw the beaver and thought it would be a good idea to go investigate. The result was a wet dog, and no beaver. Jinjer appeared to have a lot of fun trying to find the beaver among all of the lily pads.

I was fortunate enough to find the beaver later on while I was out in the canoe so I was able to get a few images. We also found a couple more beaver lodges while hiking to some other lakes nearby.

I was able to enjoy two nice sunrises. I missed the most dramatic color of the first one, but I'm still very happy with the images I was able to create.

The sunrise on the second day wasn't as colorful, but still a pleasure to watch.

During the day the light was very harsh and it was a little too windy to be out in the canoe so I decided to make some photographs with the intention of creating an HDR image once I got home.

The sunrise on our last morning was not very colorful at all. It looked like it could storm at any moment, but it never did. I decided to experiment with zooming my lens during a long exposure. I kind of like the way this image tuned out. I think the effect adds to the ominous feel that the sky had that morning.

All in all it was a very nice little getaway. The mosquitoes were pretty bad but once the wind picked up, they were gone. I wish the wind would have had the same effect on the ticks. We found dozens of them on our dogs, as well as ourselves. We are still picking them off of the dogs. I found 4 more on Jinjer tonight...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

1st Post - The Story Behind the Photographs - Bluebird

I have kicked around the idea of starting a blog for while now, and finally decided to get my feet wet.  I follow several photography blogs that provide great content, but most of them are missing something.  Most of them talk about the latest gear, or basic tips for improving your photography.  All of that is great and I enjoy reading that type of info, but there is something else that I like to read, but rarely find on the blogs I visit.  That missing piece is the story behind the image.

For my first step into the blogging world I thought it would be fun to document the story, and the process behind how and why I created a particular image.

With spring in the air, my mind drifts to spring migration, and the many birds that will be passing through and returning to the midwest.  Spring is the time I go out and clean my five nest boxes in preparation for the eastern bluebirds.  Of the five boxes, only one has anything living in it this year.  I'm happy to report that the occupants of this box are indeed eastern bluebirds and not house sparrows.

In the past, I have made some successful images by sitting a distance away from the nest boxes, and shooting the birds with a long lens.

That wasn't enough.  I wanted to get closer and really fill the frame with the brightly colored birds.  I built a 40' long cable release for my camera, and set it up on a tripod with a 100mm lens a short distance from box and waited.  It worked pretty well, but still wasn't what I was looking for.  With the narrow field of view from the 100mm lens, and not being able to adjust the composition from 40' away, I needed to try something else.  After the young fledged, I put the long release away, and forgot about it for a couple of years.

When the birds returned this spring, I decided to go a step beyond what I had done in the past and create something new.  I pulled the long cable release out of the closet.  I set my tripod even closer to the nest box.  Instead of being a few feet from the box, I set up a few inches from it.  I attached a 16mm fisheye lens to the camera, and waited.  With the close perspective and the wide angle view, I was able to capture an image that I hadn't even thought of in the past.

I have several images that I have created of these birds with a long lens, but they are all lacking something.  That something is the feeling of intimacy.  I like those images, but they don't capture that feeling that I was after.  This image does, at least for me.  This image tells a different story than the other images I created, and gives the viewer a unique perspective.

I am very happy with this image, but that doesn't mean I'm done using this technique.  Since I created this image, I have began to experiment with this same set up, but also including some fill flash.  Now that the chicks have hatched, the adult bluebirds are much more active at the nest and providing more opportunities to create more photographs.  All of those hungry mouths to feed means that they are coming and going much more often.  The additional element of having a meal ready for the chicks adds even more to the story.

This last image, isn't my final image, but another step in the evolution of creating a photograph.