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. 

Black Friday in Boxley Valley

When I moved to the Ozarks I imagined that I was leaving behind the pressures of city life, that I would be living at a slower and more manageable pace. I’ve always avoided the mall on Black Friday like the plague. People change under the pressure of the potential deals laid out before them. You won’t catch me camping out at Best Buy for a week or fighting off another shopper for the last bathrobe on sale. I’m not opposed to Black Friday at all, it’s just that for me the three dollar savings on an iPod is just not worth the stress. I have also found that with all those rabid shoppers occupied there are other places that are magically tranquil and serene – at least that was what I expected to find as some friends and I made our annual Black Friday pilgrimage to the Boxley Valley to visit the elk.

Now I have posted about Boxley several times, it’s not like I only visit on Black Friday – but it is a day that is typically quieter. Shoppers are otherwise occupied. It is the last half of the rut and action is often sparse. Personally, I find these creatures to be magnificent and love to see them any time – in velvet, during the rut, in the dead of winter – I’m game for the drive over.

The peaceful setting of Boxley Valley is no stranger to the pressures of Black Friday...

The peaceful setting of Boxley Valley is no stranger to the pressures of Black Friday…

Sadly, the consumerism and pressures of the outside world have intruded into my peaceful valley sanctuary.

It all begins with the crowds lining up to get a look at sales and specials.

It all begins with the crowds lining up to get a look at sales and specials.

They're opening the doors - I'm headed straight for that shiny new crock pot!

They’re opening the doors – I’m headed straight for that shiny new crock pot!

Listen up! Don't even think about heading to the crock pots - that new red Sunbeam is mine!

Listen up! Don’t even think about heading to the crock pots – that new red Sunbeam is mine!

I'm not kidding - I will fight you for that crock pot! Don't even think about it!

I’m not kidding – I will fight you for that crock pot! Don’t even think about it!

The doors are finally open - crock pot, today you are mine!

The doors are finally open – crock pot, today you are mine!

I told you buddy, that crock pot is mine!

I told you buddy, that crock pot is mine!

There is no way I'm losing out on this crock pot to a crack pot like you!

There is no way I’m losing out on this crock pot to a crack pot like you!

I'm gonna have to dig deep to hold onto this crock pout!

I’m gonna have to dig deep to hold onto this crock pout!

Can you believe these two are tussling over a crock pot when everything is half off at Old Navy?

Can you believe these two are tussling over a crock pot when everything is half off at Old Navy?

You messed with the wrong bull buddy - you are going down. No crock pot for you!

You messed with the wrong bull buddy – you are going down. No crock pot for you!

I can fight on forever knowing that I will get 20% off that crock pot! Savings like that fuel my fire!

I can fight on forever knowing that I will get 20% off that crock pot! Savings like that fuel my fire!

I will never surrender my crock pot!

I will never surrender my crock pot!

Victory is within my grasp - I can see that crock pot and it has my name on it!

Victory is within my grasp – I can see that crock pot and it has my name on it!

Victory is mine! A red Sunbeam self timing crock pot with a thermometer and a locking lid - I'm living the dream baby!

Victory is mine! A red Sunbeam self timing crock pot with a thermometer and a locking lid – I’m living the dream baby!

You cows can't touch this! I got the crock pot! I got the crock pot!

You cows can’t touch this! I got the crock pot! I got the crock pot!

Doing my crock pot victory dance!!

Doing my crock pot victory dance!!

Victory is so sweet, but not as sweet as the deal I got on that crock pot!

Victory is so sweet, but not as sweet as the deal I got on that crock pot!

Maybe I should go over and check out the specials at Old Navy...

Maybe I should go over and check out the specials at Old Navy…

Meanwhile at the Food Court…

Family Dinner

Family Dinner

Girls night out

Girls night out

Open Seating

Open Seating

Frozen dinner

Frozen dinner

Kids Meal

Kids Meal

Meanwhile our victor is enjoying the spoils of his shopping day…

Wanna come to my place and check out my crock pot?

Wanna come to my place and check out my crock pot?

The holiday season is officially here and I am thinking that the madness of Black Friday will pass soon in Boxley Valley, although I hear that Cyber Monday is madness. Be careful out there, it’s not worth an antler in the ear to save a couple of bucks.

If you want to read more about the amazing Boxley Elk, check out these links:

The Boys are Back

Dancing Elk

Seeing Spots

Stuck in a Rut

Boys will be Boys

Stuck in a Rut

Not me silly – I’m as busy and curious as ever. I honestly don’t have time to find a rut, let alone time to get stuck in one unless we are talking about “The Rut”. The Rut is the magical dance that male elk enter into each fall. Massive bull elk bugle and pose to attract or steal a harem from another massive bull. Sometimes there is a street fight with a clash of antlers – to the victor go the spoils.

The stages of the rut were described to be by wildlife photographer, Michael Dougherty, last week – it’s like a bell curve. The cows are not ready to mate yet, but the bulls are posturing so the bugling and fighting has begun. We are on the front side of the bell curve – rising but no final victors.

I made a trip to the Boxley Valley early last week hoping to see the big bulls and to hear some bugling. The elk are most active an hour before sunset or an hour after sunrise – this was an evening visit, so I was loosing light as time passed. What I saw was a massive harem with a single bull lording over them.

This low field was filled with 35 cows that we could count plus all their calves and some adolescents.

This low field was filled with 35 cows that we could count plus all their calves and some adolescents. I didn’t have a wide enough lens to capture the whole harem. The bull, known as Pretty Boy moves about the harem keeping his girls together.

This is Pretty Boy - he is a 6X6 Bull - about 6-7 years old.

This is Pretty Boy – he is a 6X6 Bull – 6 spikes on each antler. He’s about 6-7 years old.

Pretty Boy defends his harem from intruders…

Pretty Boy sees a threat and moves into action.

Pretty Boy sees a threat and moves into action.

Pretty Boy is serious about his harem - he is chasing off a young male yearling. This young bull is possibly his offspring. It's like telling your teen that it's time to pay his own car insurance and do his own laundry. Soon the youngster will be kicked out and will join a bachelor herd for the rest of the season.

Pretty Boy is serious about his harem – he is chasing off a young male yearling. This young bull is possibly his offspring. It’s like telling your teen that it’s time to pay his own car insurance and do his own laundry. Soon the youngster will be kicked out and will join a bachelor herd for the rest of the season.

Once the threat is addressed Pretty Boy will make is move on the ladies. They express no interest.

Once the threat is addressed Pretty Boy will make is move on the ladies. They express no interest.

With the threat passed, Pretty Boy will sit down for dinner with his leading ladies.

With the threat passed, Pretty Boy will sit down for dinner with his leading ladies. Note that our teenager is eating clearly outside the family circle.

After watching Pretty Boy I made a run down to the other end of the valley and noticed that most of the other bulls were doing their own thing or hanging out with the boys…

This Big Boy is a 6X7 and was hanging out alone in a pasture. He's not wasting his energy waiting on 35 ladies.

This Big Boy is a 6X7 and was hanging out alone in a pasture. He’s not wasting his energy waiting on 35 ladies.

This big fella is killing two birds with one stone. He is eating and polishing his antlers by digging into the grass and brush. He's gearing up for a fight.

This big fella is killing two birds with one stone. He is eating and polishing his antlers by digging into the grass and brush. He’s gearing up for a fight.

Before I left the valley I spotted at least 4 bulls larger than Pretty Boy. None of them were taking care of a harem. There was a lot of bugling away from the harem – boys calling each other across the highway – it was like they were calling each other out, staking their claims.

I returned to the valley on Saturday at dawn with some friends. We saw a few adolescents as we checked out both ends of the valley. As we headed north we saw a lot of parked cars alongside the highway – always a good sign. We parked just in time to see Pretty Boy moving his harem into the river cane. The size of his group was markedly smaller – maybe 20 cows. We saw him at the corner of the meadow, he bugled and all those cows bolted and followed him behind the curtain.

This line of river cane separates the elk's public and private spaces. After feeding they bed down on the other side for the day.

This line of river cane separates the elk’s public and private spaces. After feeding they bed down on the other side for the day. Pretty Boy guides them to a more secure area.

Michael, the photographer I mentioned earlier, told me that he moved the harem because he knew there was a rival in the area.

We cruised the valley hoping for another siting and were about to call it a day when we saw the same harem emerge in another meadow downstream.

Pretty Boy positioned himself between the cows and the line of river cane - clearly he was concerned about a rival beyond the cane.

Pretty Boy positioned himself between the cows and the line of river cane – clearly he was concerned about a rival beyond the cane.

He gradually moved the cows away from the river and they came very close to the road where we were watching.

He gradually moved the cows away from the river and they came very close to the road where we were watching.

We were standing along a treeline - shooting through it - when the cows started checking us out.

We were standing along a treeline – shooting through it – when the cows started checking us out.

The harem was getting restless - wanting to move away from the road...

The harem was getting restless – wanting to move away from the road…

But Pretty Boy was holding his ground - barring them from the cane.

But Pretty Boy was holding his ground – barring them from the cane.

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Even our young teenager is moved along with the cows.

Pretty Boy moves even closer to the road - barring the harem from the cane.

Pretty Boy moves even closer to the road – barring the harem from the cane. He bugles to let the girls know that he is the man in charge.

In chaos, the cows turn as they hear another voice in the distance...

In chaos, the cows turn as they hear another voice in the distance…

Pretty Boy looks on as the cows start to move.

Pretty Boy looks on as the cows start to move.

Pretty Boy Bugles in an attempt to stop the cows from running towards the cane.

Pretty Boy Bugles in an attempt to stop the cows from running towards the cane.

The cows break for it and run to the cane. They hear a new voice calling from the river.

The cows break for it and run to the cane. They hear a new voice calling from the river.

Pretty boy sings his heart out as the girls run for the river.

Pretty boy sings his heart out as the girls run for the river.

Calling the cows is not working, Pretty Boy heads for the river.

Calling the cows is not working, Pretty Boy heads for the river.

As the cows leave, we hear chirping from the cows, calling to their calves. This youngster ran with the lead pack of cows only to discover his mother wasn't there - he seemed caught in no-man's-land, not sure which group he belonged with.

As the cows leave, we hear them chirping, calling their calves. This youngster ran with the lead pack of cows only to discover his mother wasn’t there – he seemed caught in no-man’s-land, not sure which group he belonged with.

Pretty Boy drops his head and moves towards the cane. We hear bugling from him and from the river as the cows leave him.

Pretty Boy drops his head and moves towards the cane. We hear bugling from him and from the river as the cows leave him.

Pretty Boy looks crestfallen as he moves towards the cane - but he has a plan...

Pretty Boy looks crestfallen as he moves towards the cane – but he has a plan…

Pretty Boy shows his stuff - he digs those antlers into the ground and calls to the girls...

Pretty Boy shows his stuff – he digs those antlers into the ground and calls to the girls…

They are not impressed. He loses all but 4 cows in less than 5 minutes.

“Don’t go!” They are not impressed. He loses all but 4 cows in less than 5 minutes.

Michael told us to watch for a potential fight, but the rival beyond the cane never appeared. Pretty Boy had put in so much work and lost it all in moments. According to Micheal, this is the third year he has lost his harem – he’s had his pocket picked three times now. He’s just not big enough to take on the big boys yet. His strategy was to start with a large harem and try his best to hang onto them, meanwhile his rivals rest and eat and wait for their opportunity to steal the cows. The good news for Pretty Boy is that the big boys will tire out before the rut is over. There are 4 cycles of mating and by the end of the third they are spent. That’s when the fellas like Pretty Boy take over. Between now and then he will likely spar as he tries for a piece of the harem, but the truth is that he only really has a shot at the last cycle.

Until next year, Pretty Boy really is stuck in a rut.

Shutter Speed – on the Road

I’ve written five posts about migrating to Shutter Mode – most of them featured shots taken right here at the Stone House. It’s one thing to put something into practice in a semi controlled environment – it’s quite another to risk the uncertainty of a new skill out on the road when you are shooting subjects that you rarely see.

Thursday a friend texted me at work asking me if I would be up to a drive over to the Boxley valley after work. These long summer days have afforded me more late day opportunities to shoot and I was totally excited about ending a very busy work day with a drive out to elk country. We left at 6 and had about 45 minutes of decent light once we arrived. We spotted an elk coming out of the woods into the meadow, it was followed by another, and another, and another until there were about a dozen young elk. This appeared to be a colony of teenagers – a mix of young bulls and cows. The meadow was their hangout and they were there to feed. I quickly snapped up several pastoral scenes.

So you may be asking what this series has to do with shutter speed – I had the shutter set at 1/640 second with the ISO at 2500. The meadow was in the shade of the mountains to the west – so although we were shooting before sunset, we were doing it in the shade – shooting with that higher ISO in low light can result in lots of grain, but if there was some action a reasonably fast speed would be required to capture it. I was just about to lower the speed and ISO when something happened.

A pair of young elk decided that a pastoral evening dining on grass what not what they were looking for. A young cow taunted a young bull with amazing results…

It was the equivalent of overturning all the tables at Denny’s – the other elk weren’t sure if they should react or finish their dinner. None of them decided to join our happy pranksters, but none of them reacted negatively either – what a great society!

I was losing light during this series and the shots are noticeably grainy as the scene comes to an end – but there’s the dilemma. Do you catch the action and live with the grain, or do you lower the ISO and shutter speeds and deal with blur and darkness? I chose to capture.

I’ve been shooting the elk for a couple of years now and have been admiring the work of other local photogs shooting in the valley for far longer and this is something I have never seen – so capturing it, even a bit grainy was a thrill. Who knew that a Thursday could end so perfectly!

Related Posts:

Shutter Speed Part 1

Shutter Speed Part 2

Shutter Speed Part 3

Shutter Speed Part 4

Shutter Speed Part 5

Lucky Shot

I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record. I’m a huge advocate of taking your camera with you…everywhere.

I drag mine through airports, take it on business trips, pack it into work everyday, and throw it in the jeep when I head to the grocery store. You just never know when you might get lucky and get a shot that teaches you something that you never knew.

You might learn that…

20130119-110855.jpg…There’s something hiding in the tall grass…

20130119-111019.jpg…Marmots have buck teeth…

20130119-111035.jpg…Some chickens can bend metal with just the power of their minds…

20130119-111047.jpg…Prairie dogs love to play tiny green harmonicas…

20130119-111058.jpg…African parrots not only copy voices, they do movie impressions too – this Linda Blair from the Exorcist…

20130119-111137.jpg…Woodpeckers have really long tongues…

20130119-111154.jpg…Hummingbird tongues are even longer…

20130119-111214.jpg…Squirrels like to sit on tiny benches…

20130119-111228.jpg…Canaries can be wistful…

20130119-111301.jpg…Deer can be kind if vain…

20130119-111314.jpg…Titmice like to hang out…

20130119-111340.jpg…Someone is watching you…

20130119-111408.jpg…Chickadees can be intimidating…

It’s great to tell stories about the wonderful things you see every day, but a picture says so much better!

Paparazzi

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Dang! Surrounded! You watch that one and I’ll watch this one…

 

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Whew! Just a camera. Hey, make sure to get my good side…

 

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I hate it, they all show up with their cameras when my antlers look a mess…

 

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Can’t you leave us to eat our breakfast in peace?

 

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OK – a couple of poses and that’s it!

 

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Don’t get my double chin…

George

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This is George – at least that’s what we call him. My friend Judy and I first met him last year. About 10 in the morning we spotted him laying down in the grass by the creek in the meadow. We left to grab breakfast and returned about an hour later to find him still lying down.

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Secretly I wondered if he was OK, he was the only elk we had gotten very close to that morning so I hoped I was just a worrywart. We scouted the rest of the valley, took some snaps and decided to check on him before we headed home. To our surprise, he was up and eating. Perhaps he was just lazy and decided to sleep in.

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We noticed he was a bit odd looking, his rack didn’t have the same bold shape, he was noticeably sway-backed, and he was even knocked-kneed. He did seem pretty unaffected by our presence and looked up at us several times. He was kind of like that sad ugly puppy at the pound, everything about him was wrong, but I kinda wanted to take him home.

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Let me state for the record that I am no expert in elk development, George could have just been at that awkward stage, maybe going through puberty. I just don’t know. It does seem to me that he was off alone and didn’t carry himself like the other young bulls.

This year when I went to the valley for the first time I told Judy that I had seen George. She didn’t believe me until she saw my photos of him. He was in the same meadow eating in the same spot as though he hadn’t moved in almost a year. He might have another spike or two on his rack, but he was still our George.

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This week we saw our old friend again in the same meadow – he had moved about 100 yards north because it appeared that a farmer had mowed his favorite spot. We found him up early, grazing near the mist over the creek.

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I worked my way around the edge of the meadow for a better shot, maybe something that would show off part of the old barn in the background when I saw that George was not alone…

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George is almost always alone in the meadow, unlike the other bachelors he doesn’t seem to have a pal to hang out with. His friend in the trees seems to be taking a keen interest in George.

Of course his interest may have been purely in the trees. I wonder what kind of trees those are?

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George and his neighbor got back to the business of grazing…

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Grazing and watching…

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I kind of liked the idea that the big guy stayed in the distance and let George take center stage.

George fascinates me. He’s not so majestic or graceful, he’s kind of crooked – kind of like me. Maybe that’s his appeal – in a species that’s so extraordinary, he’s not. He’s just George and that’s pretty special.