The Little Bighorns of Boulder City

I love to see wildlife in unusual circumstances. I recently entertained a chickadee in my house for several hours while it decided to avoid the bitter cold. Of course that lead to a photo-op and possibly a future blog post.

Over the holidays I went to Las Vegas to see family. My brother Max has moved to the Fruity Chicken full-time and I often find photo ops with his menagerie, but his wife Karen and I took a run out to Boulder City one afternoon. We went in search of the bighorn sheep that live along the canyons that make up the shoreline of Lake Mead. In my mind I thought we would be headed out to the wilds to capture those amazing beasts out in the desert where I had spotted them in my youth. No, we went to a local park where the bighorns have taken over the baseball field. They come out each day to graze and on the day we visited only the smaller sheep came out from the mesquite thicket. I framed my shots carefully to avoid the playground equipment and the tennis courts.

When we first arrived they were below us in the field, over the course of about 45 minutes they walked right past us and into the playgrounds. I actually shot some of these shots with my portrait lens!

Bighorns fascinated me as a child. I used to draw them and worked really hard to get the horns just right. There was something about seeing them so near the playground that was pretty sentimental to me.

Shutterbug Notes:

I always carry at least three lenses. You never know what you will need, even when the plan is to shoot wildlife. My zoom would never have let me get those panoramic shots with the lake and mountains in the background – I was so glad to have my portrait lens in my bag. For me I need to have a minimum of a portrait lens, a macro, and a long zoom. When I travel I throw in a wide-angle. The variety gives me options and lets me make sure I get the shot I want. 

How to Photograph an OCD Dog Swimming in Your Pool

I recently made a visit to my hometown. I traveled to Vegas for a convention and got to spend the weekend with my family. My brother and his wife have been remodeling a house out on Sunrise Mountain – right now it’s a work in progress, but there is one part that is ready to go. Right off the patio there is an oasis in the desert – a practically perfect pool.

Growing up we were never “pool people”. On our block there were two families that had pools – one was at a white house with white carpet – they were a fancy-schmancy family with wrought iron and sparkly stucco. I was always too grubby to even pass through their door, let alone be invited to play in their pool. The other was a doughboy pool that the kids a couple of years older hung out at  – it was like swimming in a balloon, not my cup of tea.

The only pool I have ever owned was one of those kiddie pools you buy at Stuff-mart, I bought it for my dog. He loved it and I have always gotten a kick out of seeing a dog enjoy the water. I kayak with my terrier and my goldendoodle loves to play in the lake, so when I heard that we were taking my brother’s dog over to the new house to play in the pool, I was super excited to get a chance to capture her in action in the water.

A word about the dog – Cammie Lou (Cambria Louise) is an english pointer. She is an avid hunter and borders on being OCD when it comes to birds, or toys, or sitting in the passenger seat in the jeep. She cannot rest when these things are in play, she obsesses and pushes and works herself into a frenzy. It makes for a spectacular hunter. Apparently she also obsesses about swimming.

We let Cammie out into the backyard and she leapt into the pool and immediately began swimming laps non stop. She also made an excited crying sound. After about a dozen laps we would have to stand on the steps at the end and urge her to get out for a rest. She was so excited that she would jump right back in and start swimming again. This dog adores the water. Her joy is palpable. She was amazing to shoot.

To capture Cammie I started with a fairly high ISO – 2000. In the bright sunlight you could push it a lot higher if you needed to. I started with a shutter speed of 1/640 second and pushed up to 1/1000 after about 20 shots. In 10 minutes I shot about 150 frames and with these shutter speeds I only had about 4 that were out of focus or where I lost her in the frame. I focused on her eyes. Click through to get a sense of the motion of Cammie swimming.

An Arty Old Bird Shows Me Carters in Colour

I love old family photos – I use them a lot on my memoir blog, The King of Isabelle Avenue. I think they are fun to look at and they give me a chance to add some ridiculous captions. Recently Val from The Arty Old Bird contacted me about colorizing (or should I say colourizing) a few of my vintage shots.

As someone who has worked professionally in photoshop since 1992, I’m beyond impressed. Being a “get it in camera” kind of photographer, I take a “light touch” approach to editing. I see people take it too far all the time, sacrificing detail or tone for a perceived improvement that blasts out the color or borders on looking fake. Val uses color richly but shows great restraint, and that’s the true artistry, knowing when to stop. It’s pretty amazing to see these images with color – I hadn’t really imagined that they would be so profoundly different. I feel like I’m getting a window into the world long since past.

The first shot is my great great grandpa Pyeatte, he’s holding my grandmother as a toddler. I think it’s pretty interesting to see snapshots from this era, shots that are less formal than the family lined up in their Sunday best. I have always loved this shot, Grandma was very close to her grandfather, he was someone who told her she was special. I’m quite certain that I have him to thank for the amazing grandmother I had. The Ozark cabin in the background looks just like the ones I see on hillsides around my home.20130306-193752.jpg
The colour in this version is more of a tinting, it warms and defines the image. I like how Val respects the original image and takes the colour far enough to improve it, but not so far that it loses authenticity.

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This is a shot of me and my brothers, I’m guessing it’s very early in 1967. It was taken at my grandparent’s home and I was apparently not very happy with the situation. I’m certain it is because I worried that Ronnie would be taking “my room” since this was a constant worry for me at Grandma’s house. It could also be that Ronnie was a bit fussier than Max and that made me less comfortable around him at first.

20130306-194807.jpgMax was the baby that all the neighborhood girls like to play house with because he was so laid back. I had imagined a baby doll to play with and Ronnie was just not that baby. He was an adorable baby, but oh so loud when he was not happy.

20130306-194938.jpgVal made all the color decisions on this and came remarkably close to the actual colors of our outfits. This was a simple Polaroid and Val’s touch has made it so much more than it was.

I love this photo – it’s my Grandma in her Helldorado Emblem Club drill team costume. She was playing giddy-up with the local constable who had just locked Grandpa away in the city jail for shaving his beard – Circa 1948. Helldorado Days is an old Las Vegas celebration that began in 1934 – by 1946 it was so popular that Roy Rogers made a movie about it. I actually rode in the Helldorado parade many times as a kid – it’s a multigenerational tradition.

20130306-194343.jpgWhat Val has done to this image is nothing short of amazing. The buckskin outfit, the skintones, the color deep in the shadows – it’s so much more than I expected. Seeing my grandmother in all her youthful, exuberant glory makes me smile – I can’t stop smiling when I look at this photo.

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Seeing some of my favorite photos colourized in this way is a pretty special thing. Seeing them done so expertly is beyond amazing. Val’s got skills, mad skills – check out her blog! She’s funny, creative, and poetic – plus she knows a ton of WordPress secrets.

Click here to see what I’m talking about. She’s a good read even if she can’t spell colour.

Rosie and Me – an Update

Several months ago I wrote about my tattoo experience with Rosie the Riveter – you can read about it here.

A quick bit of back story for those who may not wish to click…

1. This is my favorite painting…

This is the photo I took of Rosie at Crystal Bridges last winter.

This is the photo I took of Rosie at Crystal Bridges last winter.

2. Rosie was based on this painting…

Rosie was based on the image of Isaiah from the Sistine Chapel - instead of the Book of the Law, she rests her arm on her lunchbox.

Rosie was based on the image of Isaiah from the Sistine Chapel – instead of the Book of the Law, she rests her arm on her lunchbox.

3. I started a tattoo last year of Rosie by an amazing artist, Serene Temple – as of last February it looked like this…

This is Rosie after 2 sessions - last February

This is Rosie after 2 sessions – last February. I was constantly stopped and asked who did this piece – no one believed me when I told them it was unfinished.

4. Rosie was brought to this point in 2 sessions or about 12 hours work. The first was to lay in the shadows, the second was to add color and define details.

OK – That’s where I left off. This year over my Christmas holiday I scheduled another session with the amazing Serene. She told me that we would be doing fine detail and that this session would be fun. I imagined a couple of hours of highlights and that we would have time to add something I have been wanting to add to my arm. I was totally unprepared for the detail session – it was much more than a few highlights. Layers of color were added to Rosie’s overalls, skin tones were enhanced, details were added – before it was over we spent another 5 hours on Rosie.

Rosie’s face complete with lipstick and curls. Note the highlights on all the glass surfaces like her goggles and mask.

The details in her hair and highlights make this look so much like the painting. The buttons are beyond belief.

The details in her hair and highlights make this look so much like the painting. The buttons are beyond belief.

Since the last session I have gone back to Crystal Bridges to get a shot of the pocket of Rosie’s overalls – it contained a handkerchief and a compact. Those details were added in this session.

Rosie's white compact and hanky are tucked into her overalls pocket. The white seams and the surface of the rivet gun add so much dimension.

Rosie’s white compact and hanky are tucked into her overalls pocket. The white seams and the surface of the rivet gun add so much dimension.

Rosie’s hand had so many more details than I had imagined – I thought it was pretty much done last session – I was wrong.

The crust on the bread of the sandwich, the stippled surface of the rivet gun, the buckles on her wrist strap, and her red nail polish - the details make it echo Rockwell's original.

The crust on the bread of the sandwich, the stippled surface of the rivet gun, the buckles on her wrist strap, and her red nail polish – the details make it echo Rockwell’s original.

The penny loafers and cuffs are by far the best ink I have on my body – I wish I had photos to do them justice…

The cuffs on these overalls are some of the best Ink I have ever seen. The penny loafers are my favorite part of the original and this photo doesn't do these details justice. Shooting your own leg is harder than you think.

The cuffs on these overalls are some of the best Ink I have ever seen. The penny loafers are my favorite part of the original and this photo doesn’t do these details justice. Shooting your own leg is harder than you think.

Ultimately my best shot is one taken by someone at a bit more distance. I think she’s more than I ever imagined she could be…

This gives you a feel for how complete Rosie is looking - next we will work on the background

This gives you a feel for how complete Rosie is looking – next we will work on the background.

Where do we go from here? I have an idea about the background. I don’t think I want the wavy stripes from the original – it was designed to be a flat magazine cover, and my leg is round. I am intrigued by the setting of Isaiah – both of these images are of people who were a part of a fundamental change in how we saw the world. Isaiah introduces us to a God of compassion. He describes a savior that is a conqueror of the heart rather than the head of an army. Before Isaiah our view of God was as a judge handing down punishment, after Isaiah we get a glimpse of Him extending his hand to save us from that judgement. Rosie is the image of a sea change in how we see women. Before Rosie, women were barely assigned enough intelligence to be able to vote, now she could not only do the job of any man – she could do it well. It was her duty, she was doing her part to save the world. I like to think of combining the two – maybe she should be seated on an industrial styled throne-like niche – trade Isaiah’s marble for steel and rivets. At least that’s what I’m thinking today. We’ll see where it goes the next time I go home.

As for that other piece I was thinking about adding, as usual I imagine things are easier than they really are. Serene saw my idea and was eager to tackle it. We scheduled another session on her day off while I was still in town. She did a drawing that took hours of something I had wanted to add something to my sleeve – an image of the camera my mother shot, the camera she taught me to shoot – a Rolleiflex…

What comes after Rosie? An image of my favorite camera.

What comes after Rosie? An image of my favorite camera.

This is just the first session. Details will be added and it will look amazing (I kinda think it already does, but I have learned my lesson) Good ink takes time and the time is worth it when you consider that this is on your body forever.

Urban Birding & Wildlife – Las Vegas Style

On my recent trip to my hometown of Las Vegas I was astounded by the variety of wildlife that I encountered. Since I have been focusing on shooting birds and other wildlife for the last year, I thought I would take the opportunity to shoot some of the strange and wonderful species found in the western desert.

I stopped in at Floyd Lamb State Park.

Tangent – you might wonder who Floyd Lamb was. He was the brother of Ralph Lamb, who has become a household name in the US since the premier of the show Vegas last fall. If you watch the show you probably know that Ralph’s TV brother’s name is Jack – me thinks Ralph didn’t want to share the spotlight – that’s OK because Floyd has an awesome park named after him – kinda trumps a TV crime drama if you ask me. End of Tangent.

Back to Floyd’s park – so many birds…

This guy is a white crowned sparrow – I saw these all around Las Vegas…

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So much flashier that my Ozark sparrows…

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But then again it is Vegas.

In a nearby bush I spotted a thrush. Not common in the desert…

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I bet he was probably just visiting.

Over at Floyd’s pond I was overrun by mud hens, or coots as some call them.

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Their feet aren’t exactly webbed…

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Still they work pretty well for swimming…

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And they do the job on land pretty well too.

I noticed some larger birds diving into the pond and coming up with fish…

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I spotted a few of them bracing themselves from the wind up in a tree. These are crested cormorants – juveniles so they don’t have crests yet…

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Their green eyes were pretty striking…

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And they can scoop up a pretty sizable fish with those bills…

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These guys have huge webbed feet with wicked looking talons.

From Floyd Lamb Park I moved a bit closer to home. I get shots of birds at my house all the time, I should be able to get some good shots at my brothers house…

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First I was attacked by this wild creature…

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I stepped back as it assumed a defensive posture between me and the Christmas tree…

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He puffed himself up to make it clear that it was NOT OK for me to pass…

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The scariest thing about this wild beast was not it’s impressive beak, it was its eardrum shattering voice. After a while the Christmas spirit took over and he permitted me to enter the living room.

Not all the wildlife at the homestead was so aggressive….

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Some of the beasts were almost serene…

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Playful…

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Zen like…

Some beasts were a symphony in color…

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I found it hard to imagine a beast more colorful…

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He brings to mind an explosion at a crayon factory…

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All the best colors mixing together.

This creature made me think of a dingy mop…

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Aglow in the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree.

The last creature I encountered was very unusual…

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Her eyes appeared to be a bit in front of her nose…

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And she had a fierce anger, she tore into the closet…

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And made off with her prey. To the victor go the spoils, no wire hangers for this fearsome beast!

I am glad to be back home in the safety of the woods where I am not accosted by scary beasts that screech in the night or steal my hangers, by my, what an adventure it was.

A Visit to the Fruity Chicken

I spent the holidays with my family in Las Vegas. My brother Max is the author of the often mentioned Fruity Chicken. It’s his blog about raising chickens and fruit trees in Las Vegas. The virtual Fruity Chicken is located on WordPress, but the real one is located at the base of Sunrise Mountain on the outskirts of town. I thought I would use a post to show you around the nearly famous grounds.

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The photo above is the view from the house on the lot adjacent to the chicken pen. The truth is that the Fruity Chicken rests on an acre packed with potential and a house in the midst of a massive remodel. My first day in town Max offered to show me around the new digs. Of course I brought my camera.

I have spent the last year shooting wild birds to improve my ability to make quick decisions with my camera – to get better at catching the shot. A walk around the back of the lot put my practice to the test – I’m accustomed to shooting from my porch, here I was out in the open when I spotted some movement in the oleanders. The bars on the wings reminded me of a jay, but the coloring was all wrong, it was a vireo – only in town on its way to Mexico on its annual migration.

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He decided to some out of the oleanders and look me over.

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Back in the oleanders I spotted some movement and caught a couple of white crowned sparrows.

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We made our way over towards the chicken run when we came across some sentries – the roof pack – Oddy and Michone. They permitted us to pass.

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The Fruity Chicken is filled with lots of types of chickens. I’m fascinated with their eyes. I have no clue what kind these are, but I liked the looks they gave me.

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The Fruity Chicken has a few non-chicken residents as well – there are a small group of ducks as well – some with mohawks like this girl.

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I probably should have taken shots if the orchards or the houses, but I only have eyes for the birds.

Bright Lights – Big City

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I’m spending the holidays in Fabulous Las Vegas – my hometown.

Most people don’t think of a Vegas as a place where people grow up, go to school, or barbecue. On flights home, once someone learns that am a native Vegan, I am often asked where we live – do we live in the hotels?

The truth is that we live in houses and in neighborhoods like people all over the country and the world. We mow our lawns, we bake cookies, and we put up Christmas lights…

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This display was up just a block from my brother’s house. As we left for an evening looking at lights the family was still putting it up – upon our return we saw it in all it’s glory with children dancing in the yard behind the nativity. There’s something so sweet about kids dancing around the manger as we celebrate the the birth of Jesus.

A couple of blocks over we have the neighborhood’s version of the Griswold’s – a spectacle in lights and inflatables…

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A corner lot filled to the brim – extending at least ten feet above the roofline.

Sometimes the details are more interesting that the sum of all the parts….

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Twinkling lights…

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Glowing Santa…

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Needles aglow…

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Lights and garland…

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A splash of color.

Merry Christmas from Vegas!