2013 – Ten shots that I love

Editing is crucial for me and I often put myself through the process of narrowing my shots to find the ones that really work – my blog helps with that. I take about 10,000 photos every year. I shared about a thousand with you in 2013.  As the old year closes, I thought I would take a minute to post the shots that stood out for me.

10. Orange Stairs Orange Stairs

I shot this in an architectural salvage store in Chicago. The color captivated me. It was a great day of shooting and shopping, but this is my favorite shot of my time in the Windy City.

9. One Way20130513-163959.jpgI actually shot this on my last evening in Chicago. I used my fast 50 and it let me get lots of detail even late at night. This year I challenged myself to try things to find the limits of my equipment.

8. The Friendly Yearling20130324-103214.jpgThis is probably not one of my better photos, but it was an amazing moment for me. As I looked at this young buck looking back at me I realized he was the friendly fawn I had met the year before. I was Freshly Pressed for that post, and while that was great, the moment I recognized him was something I will never forget.

7. The Fly In20130119-111408.jpgThis was one of those shots I didn’t know I captured until I reviewed the shots. I thought there was no shot with the chickadee flying in – but it is one that I just love. This shot is one that encouraged me to keep shooting even when the scene looks pretty boring. After all, if I had decided to put my camera away because all I saw was a couple of finches eating, I would have missed this shot.

6. A Frosty Windshield

The payoff, sunrise out my driver's side window.

I took this shot waiting for my jeep to warm up one morning. I was so glad to have my macro lens with me. Macro shooting makes you look deeper into an unexplored world.

5. The Dancing Elk

Blitzen

I love shooting the elk during the rut, but this day was magical. The ground was frosty and there was a full on bull-fight. This bull was the victor and danced his way across the valley letting everyone know.

4. Stop Action Hummer

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After trying every shutter speed and lighting combination to try to capture a shot of a hummer in flight I decided to try a flash. This was taken right before sunset and I was running out of light – the flash was a gamble, but it worked so well that I began to use it in the daylight to stop action.

3. Tilt Shift Ben

This is my friend Ben. He lives across the road from me and sometimes visits with me while I get my mail. I never noticed how close in color he is to the road before. I shot him as he moved towards me and lucked out on the focus.

This is an experimental shot I took with a tilt shift set up. It was manually focused right after sunset. I was pleased with how it turned out, but this really feels like Ben to me – he is a neighbor dog that drops by to make sure I make it home OK.

2. The Swimming Dog

Speed

This shot of my brother’s dog in the swimming pool took a grand champion ribbon at the county fair – but even if no one appreciated the technical process of stopping the action, I love how that spit second of bliss shows in her expression. The color of the pool in the sunlight made for a great setting.

1. The Blue Jay

Eat and glare

This is my favorite photo I took this year – the attitude of the blue jay, the color of the bokeh, the late afternoon lighting. The funny thing is that I was trying to stop action and this guy just stopped to pose for me.

I’ll admit it, as soon as I got to 10, I wished I had made a top 20 list. Are there any you think should have made the cut? What did you post in 2013 that you are especially happy with? Happy New Year!

Shutterbug Notes:

If I could offer any advice, it would be to try new things. Your camera is capable of so much more than you imagine. Shoot the shots you want in Auto and then try the other modes. Push the ISO. Try that lens that is sitting around gathering dust. You’ll be a better photographer. 8 of these 10 shots would not have happened if I had stayed in my comfort zone. 

Better Late than Never…

When I first started this blog I began to notice comments from a Honie Briggs. On my second post I was Freshly Pressed and she was among the very first commenters. Sadly, I was not well versed in blogging etiquette at this early stage, so I failed to reply. What an insensitive oaf I was…

Today I remedied my oversight.

Today I remedied my oversight. Whew! I feel so much better now.

I had no idea who or what a Honie was, but the avatar was always smiling nicely. Even after I failed to respond Honie kept showing up, she was always encouraging and thoughtful. Sometimes she was wicked funny, sometimes our comment threads had more words than my blog posts. As soon as I came to understand the Reader, hers was one of the first blogs I followed and we continued the conversation back and forth.

From Steph’s (Honie’s) blog I have learned so much about writing – about voice, and pacing and rhythm. Whether it’s a rant, a poem, flash fiction, or just an observation Steph’s work is engaging and fun to read. You see, I’m no wordsmith, I’m a photog who fakes it and makes the best of a run-on sentence.  As the kid who grew up being able to draw anything, it used to puzzle me when people would say that they didn’t understand how I could make something look so real. Reading blogs written by writers with actual talent has given me that same sense of wonder about syntax. The simplicity and complexity amaze me. I have no idea how to do it, but I know that I like it. Steph does it better than most and she makes me laugh out loud sometimes.

Last year, my company sent me to Dallas to attend the Gift Mart. I had driven down from Arkansas and was reading blogs in my hotel after my drive. Steph posted a blog that had a rant about freeway on ramps and off ramps. I commented and mentioned I had just driven over a couple of them – soon we were emailing and texting back and forth with plans to get together after my work was done.

Here's Steph - shooting me shooting her at the Italian Deli about 15 freeways away from the Gift Mart

Here’s Steph (Honie) – shooting me shooting her at the Italian Deli about 15 freeways away from the Gift Mart

Standing on a corner in a strange city waiting to meet someone you have only met online is an odd thing. You wonder if this is a smart idea, will they show up or think better of it, will you have anything to talk about in real life. So I waited beside a stoplight outside the mart scanning the oncoming cars for one that fit the description she gave me – soon I heard a woman’s voice with a soft drawl call out “Arkansas!” – Steph and her Loyal Follower pulled up beside me and I hopped into their car. I had nothing to worry about – she was warm and we talked like we had known each other our whole lives.

Wait, this photo has nothing to do with Honiebriggs.com ...

Wait, this photo has nothing to do with Honiebriggs.com …

When I started blogging I knew exactly one blogger IRL (in real life) – my brother Max. He writes The Fruity Chicken and I thought blogging would be a good way to share photos with family. Jumping at the chance to meet someone like Steph was a real treat (they bought me dinner!) – but it was more than that, I have heard the voice behind the keyboard and I was right about her – she’s the real deal. Since then I have had a chance to meet Paula from Stuff I Tell My Sister, she’s even sweeter in person.

You are correct, this isn't about Honiebriggs.com ...

You are correct, this isn’t about Honiebriggs.com …

The bottom line is that I have found that meeting someone IRL has made my interactions with those I follow and who follow me more real – there is a real person responding on the other side, someone who may be profound, kind, struggling, challenging. I hope it’s made my interactions more authentic, because now I know that they mean something.

Steph is celebrating her blogging anniversary this week and this post is a part of that celebration. She kicked things off Friday with this post.  This year she got the chance to meet a few of her followers and is looking forward to meeting more this year. She is going to select from those who write about why they follow her blog to schedule a meet up for next year. Tomorrow Allan from Ohm Sweet Ohm will be posting about his experience meeting Steph. His blog is a wonderful mix of photography, poetry, and history centered around his life and the Golden Gate Bridge – one of my favorite follows as well. I highly recommend this sparky.

But I can't write a post with no bird photos - can I?

But I can’t write a post with no bird photos – can I?

Kudo’s to you Steph – your work is wonderful – keep making me smile, and think, and grow. Next time you need to bring your Alabama self to the Ozarks!

Shutterbug notes:

I shot these birds through my 100 year old wavy glass windows. Ordinarily I don’t shoot through windows but there was really no other way to capture this scene as the icicles were hanging like curtains over my view. Shooting through windows, no matter how clean leaves you with an under exposed look, so I adjusted the exposure compensation a bit. Since flash would only bounce off the glass, I chose aperture mode and shot with the aperture wide open. I was about 3-4 feet from the birds. 

Out on a Limb

Winter Storm Cleon has moved east and it’s finally possible to get out of the Stone House and get back to work. It’s still unseasonably cold, and today I got my first mail delivery in almost a week. During the storm I worked from home and stayed warm and mostly dry by the fire. By day two the symptoms of cabin fever were starting to set in. I was getting up every thirty minutes and walking up and down my hallway several times. I constantly stocked the indoor firewood pile. I starting to feel restless and cooped up. I decided that to clear my head that I would take a walk outside over my “lunch hour”.

I put on my Carharts and tucked my weatherproof camera and lens inside my jacket. The activity around the house was extraordinary. Cardinals were hanging onto the branches of the crepe myrtle for dear life. A fallen tree limb over the pergola was a lifeline to a small woodpecker as winds blew snow almost sideways. Birds that typically dart away held fast in hopes of spotting fallen seed below on the patio.

I came in almost soaked through and freezing, but invigorated and ready to focus – on work.

Shutterbug notes:

Shooting birds in the snow can be tricky. Your camera’s autofocus wants to focus on the nearest object in your field of view – I found that if I made my focus point as small as possible and tried to get it to lock onto a bird’s eyes or beak that I could eventually get a focus between flakes. I took all of these shots in shutter mode at 1/400 second and an ISO of 1000. The white of the snow added ambient light that made a moderate ISO setting sufficient. A slower shutter speed would make the flakes look more like streaks – a faster one would require a higher ISO and would create unnecessary noise in a limited light situation.

Trying Something a Bit Flashy

I’ve been working getting a good library of photos built for stock photography sites and it’s been a humbling experience. The sites critique your work and the issues are very plainly stated. The artistic quality of a photo is not considered. It’s all about fundamentals.

Here on this blog I have been talking about pushing my photography in order to accomplish tasks like stopping the motion of a hummingbird’s wings or capturing the joy of an OCD dog in swimming pool. These exercises have pushed me to capture things I never really thought my micro 4/3 system was capable of. This has been great for me as a technician and I feel more capable of shooting things that I had not even considered before. The down side is that it has pointed out the flaws in the give-and-take when you trade shutter speed for ISO – the end result is more noise. Although this might be great for a photo that I would publish here or even one that I would sell a print of, it doesn’t cut it in the stock photography world. Noise is a no-no.

I’m also finding that my artistic leaning towards a very shallow DOF is not what these sites are looking for either – so I have culled my archives to find the best shots where the focus on the main subject is deeper – all-in-all I am starting to find the right mix. My autumn leaves seem to be hitting the mark as well as some wildlife and some flowers.

This whole process got me thinking – is there a way to get a very sharp image of a hummingbird (or any bird) in less than perfect lighting conditions? In motion? Without a lot of noise? I recently attended a family wedding and I brought my portrait lens. As the ceremony moved from a lakeside sunlit venue to a rather dark reception hall I was forced to take out my least favorite piece of photographic equipment – my flash.

I have never liked shooting with a flash. I don’t like the way it can change skin tones and the shadows it can cast. I prefer a fast lens and available light, but as the days start to get shorter, that means I might have to shoot only on weekends with great weather. The hummingbirds are here now – and they’ll be headed south by mid October. Although I find the flash intimidating, the time has come for me to give it a try.

All of the shots that follow were shot in overcast conditions after 6:00pm. Some were shot on the west side of my home where the house casts shadows on my shooting area after 4:00pm.

I’ll start with a hummingbird on a limb. I was concerned that once I fired the flash that my subject would bolt, but my worries were unfounded. I shout about 10 frames of this fellow and he was unconcerned with me. He was in the shadow of the house, backed by a cedar beam.

There is the problem of the flash needing to recharge between shots – so I have to go back to my process of stalking and waiting for a good moment rather than firing off dozens of frames – but I kind of like that.

Of course, there is still the issue of hoping to stop the action of a hummingbird in flight. The flash certainly helps…

This shot was taken at about 6:00 in the evening - I had to get a focus on the bird and wait for it to flutter backwards from the feeder to make the capture. Since a bird does this about 5-6 times when feeding you are lucky to get two chances while a bird is at the feeder with the flash recharging between shots.

This shot was taken at about 6:00 in the evening – I had to get a focus on the bird and wait for it to flutter backwards from the feeder to make the capture. Since a bird does this about 5-6 times when feeding you are lucky to get two chances while a bird is at the feeder with the flash recharging between shots.

There is something else the flash does that I hadn’t really considered. All that extra light assists the camera in getting some pretty tight focus…

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I can see the veins of individual feathers in this shot, but the beak is what really got me. I have never gotten a shot this sharp of a hummer. The flash makes the wings transparent so that you can see her body through it. A shadow is cast of the wing on her left by the one in front.

This whole process has made me think about using a flash when I have plenty of sunlight. Can I get a really sharp image by adding just a bit more light into the mix? Or is that just too flashy?

Didn’t Your Mama Ever Teach You Any Table Manners?

Mid summer is a time when the Bird Buffet is inundated with fledglings – last week I wrote about a titmouse who was unwilling to cut the apron strings. I’m glad to report that I witnessed him opening and eating his own sunflower seeds today. Still, his screeching for his mama continues unabated. I have the feeling he’ll be living at home until his student loans are paid off.

Todays subject on Fledglings Behaving Badly, is not a mischievous titmouse, it’s a youngster from a fine upstanding family, known for their fine manners. They don’t screech, they don’t fight, they don’t hand upside down from the chandeliers. The Downy Woodpecker is the very picture of a well-mannered bird.

This is a Downy being a Downy - walking along a tree limb looking for bugs.

This is a Downy being a Downy – walking along a tree limb looking for bugs.

Downies are sweet birds, they become accustomed to humans very quickly and even share their feeders easily. They are likable little birds – the kind who grow up to be upright citizens. Every once in a while there’s a bad apple, a bird that no amount of parenting and discipline can manage – a hellion that upsets the whole neighborhood.

This kind of behavior cannot be tolerated at the Buffet! I suppose she thinks that if it’s alright for the hummers to dive bomb each other over this feeder that she can do whatever she likes, well she’s wrong – dead wrong (not really, I could never hurt her).

Click through this next gallery to see our stop action surveillance of the perpetrator.

After this incident, the youth in question was seen hanging upside down on the woodpecker feeder. She was last seen leaving the Buffet on a motorcycle with a sketchy looking bluejay.

She's gonna have one heck of a hangover in the morning.

She’s gonna have one heck of a hangover in the morning.

Parents – tell your fledglings about nectar. There’s nothing sadder than a young woody throwing her life away for a sugar high.

Shutter Speed – A Month of Hummers

Over the course of the last month I have been experimenting with shooting in Shutter Mode – a departure from my beloved and comfortable Aperture Mode style of shooting. You can read about my progress here, here, here, and here.

If you don’t want to bother with clicking all those blue words – here’s my journey in a nutshell:

1. I like to shoot birds and wish I could capture more action shots.

2. Shooting in Aperture Mode focuses on light and not speed, so while I can easily control the depth of field, I miss a lot of that action.

3. Most wildlife photogs shoot in Shutter Mode, because controlling the speed gives you a better chance at stopping motion – this prompted me to get out of my comfort zone and give it a try.

What I have learned in the last month is that great light increases your camera’s ability to get you great results, and that you need to know the limits of your camera’s ability to handle lower light with higher ISO settings. ISO is crucial in allowing more light in when you increase shutter speeds even in sunlight.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that my camera can push these settings pretty far and still yield good results. I would encourage you to find a review that assesses your camera’s capabilities to see where the experts draw the line on ISO performance. For my camera, the line seems to be at 6400 with the experts in a controlled lighting situation – in the field I find I prefer the results at 3200 and lower. That’s twice the limit I have ever been comfortable trying, and reading up on my camera convinced me that my thinking on ISO and grain was stuck somewhere in past with my first Canon Elph (circa 2002).

When starting down this road my goal was to try to get shots of hummingbirds with definition in their wings. I have hundreds of shots from the last year with eyes in focus and wings that are barely discernible – now I love some of these shots, but getting wings with actual feathers defined was a rarity. Now I am not at the point where I am completely stopping motion on a hummingbird – honestly, I think that to do that dependably would require the use of a flash, and that is way outside my comfort zone. What follows are my favorite shots from a month of shooting in Shutter Mode.

Click on any image to start the slide show!

Now I know that last shot is not really an action shot. That girl worked her heart out for me – she’s out there on the front lines everyday defending that red bottle feeder, and her exhaustion is starting to show. She’s the acrobat diving into frame in so many of these shots. Well done, my little friend, well done.

It’s Time to Leave the Nest Already

Titmice are pretty much identical. I can pick out two that I have had at the feeder for a couple of years because of scars they have. Recently I have been watching a young titmouse – he stood out from the cool grey crowd. I was pretty sure it was a youngster because it’s plumage was a bit rough and it still had the yellow edging on its beak that baby birds had. It’s about the same size as the other birds so it seemed like it should be more confident. It looked to me like it was having a hard time mastering basic titmouse routines.

A couple of days ago I witnessed an altercation. The young bird would vocalize and make lots of screeching sounds whenever a mature bird got close – I assumed that this was about a young bird proving himself. He seemed to be incapable of holding his own.

I started to notice this bird regularly. In this screen door weather it’s clear when he is on one of my pergolas. He seems to be able to screech even with his mouth full. He also puffs out his feathers – this has made him an attractive subject as I study capturing movement through setting changes.

Last night, just before sunset I saw the following interaction – as I watched I assumed it was a tussle over a peanut, but as I looked at the next to last shot I wondered if I had been looking at this all wrong…

As I watched the scene above I was sure that there was a fight over a peanut, but as I looked at the photos afterward, I wasn’t so sure.

Today I saw the two birds again and it became clear that my impressions were wrong.

Once I saw this play out I had to revisit the other photos and look at them through a different lens. I have never seen this type of behavior before, was this youngster just not ready to leave the nest? Does he just want to live beyond his means and eat peanuts all day instead of sunflower seeds? Was he the oldest child who wishes he got more time with mom and dad? Was he the middle child who grew up believing that he didn’t get enough attention? Was he the youngest who like to play the baby card to keep from having to fix his own supper? EIther way, he’s got his parents snowed.