I have always wanted to go see the Ancient Bristlecone Pines. Seeing other photographer’s images from there only heighten my desire to do so. Only one little item held me back; it’s the fear of heights. As a young boy, I would always close my eyes and pray, as my parents would drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. Mountain roads with steep drop-offs would especially terrify me.
One time in the middle of the night my two amigos and I, in separate cars, were heading for Mono Lake on the dreaded Tioga Pass road. I was behind them as we started down the steep backside toward Lee Vining. Soon they were out of sight as we headed down. I, on the other hand, was slowly hugging the inside part of the road, the part that normally automobiles use for going up the pass to Yosemite National Park. At 1:30 am, I didn’t think anyone would mind me using the wrong side of the road. Well, I let a big breath out, as I got down to the Mobil Gas Station parking lot near the bottom. As I got out of the car, my two friends mercilessly teased me about making them wait for me. “Where have you been”, they demanded!
I feared the road to the Ancient Bristlecone Forest would be just like the Tioga Pass road down to Highway 395. In my mind, I imagined it to be so. This always held me back. Finally, last week, with a little trepidation, I push these fears aside. Every time I would feel the urge to turnaround and go back, I would tell myself to relax and say to myself that it can be all that bad.
When I got to the Schulman Grove Visitor’s Center in midday. I bought a nice green sweatshirt with an ancient Bristlecone Pine emblazoned on the front as to always remind me I can indeed conquer my fear of heights and steep mountain roads with big drop-offs.
I climbed up the Discovery Trail looking for a particular pictorial Bristlecone Pine. As it happened, I found the one stitched on to my sweatshirt just like the park service employee at the visitor center said I would. However, I had a problem; it was four o’clock in the afternoon. I had over three hours to kill before the stars would come out and show themselves in the sky.
To idle the time away, I sat down and watched a few cars down below me, coming back and going to the other Bristlecone Pine Grove—the Patriarch Grove. I also spend some time examining the intriguing small little “purple” pine cones. Mostly, I would walk back and forth along a small stretch of the trail underneath this giant Bristlecone Pine. Other times, I would take some images of the late sunlight striking its hard-dense branches that reach for the sky.
Finally, it was a night, a few days before the full moon. I was a bit disappointed because there was so much light; I wouldn’t be able to capture a starry sky behind the Bristlecone Pine.
At home many days later, after reviewing my images, I am proud and happy. Proud that I conquered my fears, and happy with the image I created. I realized my dream; I “didn’t let my music die within me”. This beautiful image will always be a testament to my perseverance.
What do you think? Does this image stir your soul like it does mine?
It was our first full day in Serengeti National Park. We spend the morning cruising the tree line river beds, of the Central Serengeti, looking for Leopards in the riverbed trees. When our driver and guide received a message on the safari guide’s short-wave radio that a pride of lions had killed a Cape Buffalo just north of our area. It was about a forty-minute drive from our current location. And yes, the Serengeti is an enormous place, so this location was relatively close.
We decided to change our plans and head there. Soon we began to see other Land Rovers also heading that way. When we top the final rise, it was easy to spot the kill because there were at least twenty-five vehicles surrounding the feeding lions.
Then, the dance and jostling for vehicle position began. I was disturbed by how close some Land Rovers were to the lions. The vehicles formed a semi-circle around the lions. More and more vehicles kept coming in, as we finally found a clear space to view the lions feeding around the kill. It wasn’t easy, specifically; we found a small window to shoot through the sea of vehicles, and yet the kill was still a decent distance away.
For us with large telephoto lenses, it wasn’t necessary to be that close to the lions. Other safari vehicles with only cell phones viewers seemed overly aggressive pushing ever closer to the lions to get a better shot. In some cases, close as five feet away. I find this human behavior stressing to the lions and other wildlife of the Serengeti. No matter how important getting a close portrait image is to the photographer, nothing justifies getting this close and alternating their natural behavior and adding stress to their hard and difficult lives.
Maybe, I am being too hard on the paparazzi and human beings, by having some expectations that people have ethics and will take the right action, like putting wildlife first, before themselves. Let’s face it, I too am part of this dance. I am taking part too, and this sickens me. I want this changed, for it gives photographers a bad name and puts the negative spotlight on all of us.
I am digressing and giving some background information. This image of a lion cub above taking a momentary break from feeding was captured later in the day close to evening. After our late morning encounter with the feeding lions, we left, and late in the day, decided to go back. I am glad we did because in the middle of the day there were no lion cubs at the carcass. We also thought there would fewer vehicles there around the feeding lions. In reality, there were fewer, but still a lot of vehicles.
There were other members of the large pride now including at least three, four-month-old cubs, which were feeding on the buffalo carcass too. What was so amazing was that they were actually feeding inside of the abdominal cavity of the buffalo while adult lions’ mouths were feeding inches away from them. We could barely see them, and at times they were completely inside of the belly of the buffalo. It was a wonder that one of the adults didn’t bite down on the bodies of these cubs, as the adults moved their eating positions and their chewing mouths.
I captured this image as one of the cubs came out of the belly of the buffalo to take a momentary break from the feeding frenzy. This scene of the cub’s side by side with the feeding adults, disappearing into the abdominal cavity for their share is something I won’t forget. The determination of these little lion cubs and their audacity to get their share was something to behold.
The desire for life is strong and here it was so clearly visible with these cubs. A remarkable moment and a life lesson, which observed has the power to change and affect your own life. The dichotomy of how we behave, with the actions of the vehicles, ever crowding closer and closer for some hungry connection to these wild animals, to the purity of how they live their lives is very striking. And I am afraid, not a good or shining example of mankind’s behavior and not best actions towards the natural world.
It is my sincere hope that my lion cub image can put your heart in the right place, and all of us can do more to save this iconic species before it is too late and another species goes extinct at the hands of man.
There are other places in Africa that place limits on the number of vehicles around an animal. I know for a fact, Londolozi, in South Africa, has a three-limit vehicle rule. If a fourth vehicle wants to view the kill, this vehicle must wait until the first vehicle or one of the three leaves the scene, before it can approach the sighting. Maybe, three isn’t the appropriate or right number for the number of vehicles traversing the large Serengeti. Ten perhaps? Or maybe establishing a 75-foot rule, where no vehicle can come closer than this distance, is a better solution.
In Ndutu, there is a plaque on the lodge wall stating this 75-foot rule for Cheetahs. I believe this policy should apply to all large African mammals, especially for the big cats. There is room too for common sense, and judgment based on how the animal reacts and whether the animal is accustomed to vehicles. If the animal closely approaches you and the vehicle peacefully you need to stay put, be silent and let the mammal pass—panic doesn’t help either cause.
If the truth is told, while on safari and expecting to get portrait images of lion cubs, a telephoto lens is required, and you can’t rely on a cell phone for these types of images.
All these factors contribute to a Sunday where I was still very tired. I wasn’t about to miss a morning shooting in my blind at the Upper Pond. However, during the morning in the blind, I kept nodding off. A couple of California Quail came up to the perches that surrounded the pond; it was their constant chuckling that woke me up.
The female and the male flew up to my raptor perch. I took several images of them both. The female quail stayed longer and started calling out. Photographically, I was having a hard time fitting her image into the frame. My 600 mm IS f4.0 lens is sometimes just too tight, and this was the case here.
I had my 100—400 mm lens with me in the blind just for this case. As I took my camera body off the 600 mm lens, putting on the shorter lens, I looked up and saw that the female quail flew into the little blue oak tree that’s right behind the pond, and out of sight. My frustration was high, for it appeared that I changed the lens in vain, and for nothing.
With the 100—400 mm lens and camera on my lap as the minutes ticked by, I noticed a change in the quail’s chuckling coming from the little blue oak tree. It was different, and I was instantly alert. For these calls were their warning calls that a fox, bobcat, or some other predator was nearby. I had heard them many times before.
I looked out toward the brush line where the jeep road goes up the mountain and walking into my sight line appears a beautiful bobcat. For once I was prepared with the right lens, for all I had to do was raise the camera up from my lap. It has taken many years of coming close and many missed opportunities, I finally had my chance to capture a good image of Bobcat. I have seen them around the ranch many times over the years. My clients have got images of them from the same pond. Somehow my luck and fortune through the years weren’t good.
The bobcat might have come up to the pond to drink, like the Gray Foxes, have over the years. However, I think it heard the clicking from my camera shutter and after about thirty images it turn around and disappeared into the brush. For next time, I need to use the silent shooting mode that’s available on my Canon 7D Mark II camera body, for this mode really reduces the noise coming from closing and clicking the shutter. Then, I might get that coveted drinking image.
The male and female quail were still giving their warning calls, so I knew that the bobcat was still around. After a few minutes, I looked up through what I call the breezeway towards the big metal water tank. There was the bobcat next to the tank sniffing the ladder I have there to check the water level in the tank. It was between the tank and the ladder. I took a few more images before it moved off into the thick brush. As the minutes passed, the quail stopped their warning calls; I knew that the bobcat was gone, and no longer in the immediate area.
Thrilling moments, after a lifetime of disappointment. This beautiful bobcat is now forever close to my heart. I will remember and cherish these moments, every time I look at these images. I am so happy and glad I awakened just in time!
Supermassive Black Hole Within The Sagittarius A Galaxy
The base image or original image is a deep dark red bearded iris from my mom’s garden. When my mom was still alive, I used to take a lot of images of her bearded irises. They are a very deep flower, and I used to have to set my aperture to f32 or f64 to get the back parts of the flower somewhat sharp. If done properly, the macro images resemble a very colorful cathedral.
For camera club competition, I would wait to the last minute to come up with a title. I would insist that the image title had to be the real name of the iris. My mom and I would pore over her iris catalogs looking for the right iris. This would exasperate her, especially the time crunch of my waiting until the last moment. These were the days of slide shooting for me, and I would write the title information on the slide then dash off to the camera club meeting.
Looking back, I feel bad that I put my mom through this every time I entered an iris image. She could have refused to help, but her character shined true and her love for me was always there. I think she would be happy and proud of me with the creative art I created from an image of one of her irises.
The technique is from a tech tip column from a PSA (Photographic Society of America) magazine. “Put a little twirl into your work”, was the title of the article. I look for colorful graphic images that have a significant negative space. Then, I follow this technique of creating lines, blurring them, and then using Photoshop’s twirl filter, making a twirl with a positive setting, then on another layer using the opposite twirl with a negative setting.
For me, these images remind me of deep space. Thus, my space portfolio was born. With other base images, I have created a group of a dozen or so of these types of images. One base image is an image of the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, another is orange wet sand from a beach at sunset in Santa Cruz. I never know exactly what I get when I play with this technique, but that’s why it is so fun.
In memory of my mom, Lillian A Finocchio, I dedicate this image to her. It is like she is still here with me. We were so close. I miss you so much; I’ll always love you, mom!
Metal Print of this Image is now showing at the Avenue 25 Gallery through January 18, 2019. 32 West 25th Avenue, 2nd Floor San Mateo, CA 94403, Open: Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 5:00pm
I just spent five fabulous days at my Ramrod Ranch, setting up my photo blinds for bird photography, adding new perches, and preparing backgrounds by clearing grass around the ponds.
Because of my serious back injury, there was a period of 767 days from early 2015 through early 2017 that I was unable to go to my sacred place. During this visit, I reconnect to this place again, emotionally and spiritually. These five days I soaked in all the bird life. I took moonlight walks each evening, hearing a Great Horned Owl hooting its deep voice on a nearby hill. Each day I was surprised by a special and rare bird species. First, it was a Yellow Warbler, then, a Nashville Warbler—my first real photographs of this bird. The next day a Sharp-shinned hawk came by the cabin pond searching for its next meal.
The third and four days a Pacific-sloped Flycatcher made an appearance. I love Flycatchers; they are very shy but I got some very good images with good backgrounds of this wary bird. It seemed to favor the five o’clock hour to make an evening show.
However, it was the fifth day and my last morning where up by the water tank and the large main pond that I was graced with a special visit by a Gray Fox. They are so beautiful. It was thirsty and ran around the pond just feet away from me. For once I was prepared by having my 100 – 400 mm lens ready so I could zoom back and forth, getting wide-angle full body shots as well as tight portraits. This moment lasted only a minute or so but was so wonderful it seemed to last much longer. It is also forever imprinted on the view screen of my mind.
That’s not all, the Gray Fox, made a second appearance twenty minutes after the first, still thirsty. It drank again. The few quail around scattered deep into the brush. I was blessed and felt honored by sharing these few moments with this beautiful fox.
Due to a recent cancellation, I have spaces available for the October 6 and 7th, if you would like to share nature with me, and take the journey to become a better nature photographer.
It’s an incredible experience to watch birdlife so close, behaving so naturally as if you aren’t even there. I have included a couple of images of this beautiful Gray Fox and one of the Pacific-sloped Flycatcher. If I can capture these images, it possible for you to do so too. Let me teach you how.
For more information and to register, follow this link to my signup page.
I went to Arastradero Preserve in Palo Alto on my way back home, after I had visited my photographer friend who was selling his prints at the Saratoga Art Festival. Last year, another friend got wonderful shots of White-tailed Kites on some dead oak tree branch at this preserve. At the time, she describes the path and location of this particular dead oak trees. Yet, I couldn’t find it. Also, Arastradero is known for having a lot of Lazuli Buntings; I have seen countless images of this species taken there. These were my target species. However, all though, I did see White-tailed kites flying around, and the same for Lazuli Buntings. I could never find a good place to photograph them. Also, I never found the particular location from last year where my friend got those excellent White-tailed Kite images.
However, I wasn’t dismayed or discouraged. I just took what was there, and what I did find. I used my powers of observations as a naturalist, and check all the dead oak trees that I came upon. I brought my carrying cart and pushed my 600 mm lens and tripod around. If I found something, I need to be sure that the situation was going to be productive. It becomes extremely tiring very quickly, if I have to take my lens, tripod, and camera body out of my cart, repeatedly taking them out and putting them back.
Observing from a distance, I saw one dead oak tree with some birds flying around and on it. At this point, I didn’t know what species they were. As I got closer, I saw that they were Acorn Woodpeckers. They were sallying back and forth between this tree and one farther down the hill. As I got set-up I noticed that if I moved around to the other side of this dead tree; I would be able to put the coast ridge of mountains in the background, at least for most of this perch. The sky was an ugly gray color, and the clouds covered most of the sky. Rather than having the sky as a background, I preferred the tree-covered hills in the distance.
Then, I waited patiently for the Acorn Woodpeckers to come back to this dead old oak tree, a truly a landmark sentinel of the past. It had some orange lichen on its bark, which also excited me. I just had to wait and see if the Acorn Woodpeckers would come back with my presence 40 feet away.
Being spring now, the grasses were tall, still green, plenty of food to go around. I did notice the crane flies hovering and flying around this dead oak limb perch. However, I did expect that when the female woodpecker came back she would have a captured crane fly in her beak. As I composed and pressed the shutter button, I noticed a few crane fly buzzing around the woodpecker. However, there was a little serendipity and luck that I got a live crane fly flying around in my image.
The moral of the story is that don’t be rigid and at strictly follow your shot list or goals. Be flexible, nature will open up its wonder and glory, if you have an open mind and heart. I didn’t sulk, nor abandon my efforts, nor close myself off from what was possible. I went with natures’ flow, kept an open mind, taking what she gave me.
In the end, I am ecstatic over the images I did create, and the White-tail Kites and Lazuli Buntings with have to wait for another visit.
Other Technical Considerations for the Lead Image: Female Acorn Woodpecker With a Crane Fly.
Equipment / Source: Canon EOS 7D Mark II camera body, plus 1.4x Canon Tele-converter, at 840 mm focal length, 1/320 of second shutter speed, at f8 aperture, ISO 2000, Aperture priority, Evaluative Metering
Technique: Camera Body and 600 mm lens, plus 1.4x teleconverter on a Gitzo Tripod with a Wimberely Gimbal Type Tripod Head
Processing: I cropped the image. Although, I am sure someone will say that I need to crop more, especially from the left side. However, I like the offset subject and the diagonal line of the perch leading into the image from the left, allowing the mind to flow to the subject. I also increased the overall mid-tone contrast. Used Viveza to lighten the crane fly that was flying. Define noise targeted noise reduction on the background and raw sharpening on the woodpecker itself.
*The Male Anna’s Hummingbird Images Taken On The Same Trip To Arastradero Preserve.
In this post, I discuss a pre-focusing strategy I used in capturing the image above. I submitted this image to my PSA (Photographic Society of American) nature study group. Each month I submit an image to be critiqued by the other members of the group as well as the group moderator. In turn, I critique the other members’ monthly image submissions.
With each monthly image submitted, the makers include information on how the image was made and what factors went into creating the image. I thought that my website followers would also benefit in learning how I used a pre-focusing technique in creating this image of two Acorn Woodpeckers facing off over a post perch. Going into details of the creative process and explaining the goal when I came faced with this particular nature setting and situation.
Title: Two Acorn Woodpecker Face Off Over A Perch
Goal:My goal was to capture Acorn Woodpecker behavior. While hiking at the Stanford Dish trail, I noticed several Acorn Woodpecker granary trees and groups of Acorn Woodpecker flying around. The next time I went there I brought my cart with my 600 mm lens to try to photograph them as the trailhead was a fair bit away. Too far to lug my tripod and camera over my shoulder as I used to do in my younger days.
Unfortunately, these trees granary trees were very tall, and there were several of them. If I staked out one of them, the acorn woodpecker would favor the other trees. Even though, I am normally a very patience person; it one of my best personality traits. I felt frustrated and thought this is not working well photographically. While waiting I thought, maybe, I should bring my portable blind next time, and other thoughts of camouflage ran through my mind.
I was next to the hiking and running trail, so people would look at my large lens and some would comment how big it was, a typical remark. What was I doing questions came to me from some of the passersby too. Once particular observant walker told me that the Acorn Woodpeckers were lining up on a fence just up the trail. He said there was a water trough just on the other side of the fence. Immediately, I got excited about the prospects of getting some good behavioral images.
Technique:As I canvased the area and the situation, I realized that the Acorn Woodpeckers would land on the fence line before head down to the water trough behind the fence to drink. The light was behind me, setting in the west, throwing its beautiful late evening light on the woodpeckers.
My technique was to pre-focus on these fence post-landing areas. There were the traditional metal posts and a couple of telephone-type posts used for perches. I preferred the telephone post, as one was strategically placed right in front of the water trough. The water trough was away from trees in the middle of a grassy field. The only trees were right and left of the water trough but at least thirty to forty yards away. I noticed that the woodpeckers would stage in the trees and then fly out to the posts, land, and then fly down to the water trough.
Therefore, I could see them coming into this particular post. It seemed to be favored by them. I pull out my remote cord from my camera vest and would fire a bunch of images off when I could see that they were heading to this particular telephone pole perch. I would not even look through my lens as I fire off a burst. Many of the images were blank, as I started this series before they came into my lens view. Occasionally, they would bypass this particular post I was pre-focused on, and I would get nothing. Also, sometimes, I would be late with my sequence, and the Acorn Woodpecker would already be perched on the post or caught half out of the image. This wasn’t all bad, for it seemed like a territorial issue for them because they would sweep by and try to chase or bluff off the one already occupying the perch.
Using this technique, finally, I got some captures of the conflict. This particular one showed the dramatic engagement of one swooping in on the one trying to defend his perch position. This was the decisive moment as their eye contacted and wing positions strengthen the story of their behavior.
Yes, the telephone pole perched shows the hand of man, but in this case, the Acorn Woodpeckers use this perch and have incorporated into their natural behavior.
Processing:In order increase my chances to capture their behavior, I was pretty far back and the woodpeckers were pretty small in the frame. This helped with the depth of field, but lessen the impact of the woodpeckers themselves. I cropped more than usual. Then, I upscaled the image in Photoshop back to the original size, and then, made my small web jpeg files from the upsized image. The frontal lightning was so good, and because I used a tripod with a remote cord. My original capture file was sharp, clean, with lots of detail. I didn’t lose much detail or sharpness with this upscale. I also think that my fast shutter speed of 1/3200 sec really helped freeze the blink of an eye action.
I lighten the underwing on the approaching Acorn Woodpecker a bit with Viveza. I also intentionally chose a non-sky background, a non-distracting brown field rather than the blue sky.
Equipment/Source:Canon 7D Mark II body, EF600mm f4.0 lens with a 1.4 teleconverter III, 1/3200 sec at f7.1, ISO 1000, Aperture Priority, Pattern Metering.
Here is my response to the moderators and other group members’ critiques. One consistent comment was about the composition and the extra space above and below the Acorn Woodpeckers. The moderator pointed out that the one side of the post was a bit bright, and drawing the viewers’ focus to it and away from the subject. Afterward, I revised my image based on their comments. I think I improved the visual impact and overall aesthetics of the image. What do you think?
Hello Moderator and Study Group Members,
Thank you for your comments on my December image of the “Two Acorn Woodpeckers Fighting Over A Perch”. I agree with your suggestion to darken the right side of the post perch. I am surprised I did not see this; I am usually very perceptive in seeing lighter areas that draw the eye.
I cropped the original capture quite a bit, that’s why I was reluctant to even reduce the image file further in order to make the birds larger in the frame. At the time of processing, I was a little uncomfortable with the composition, yet I didn’t see a better one. Sometimes I get tied to the 2 x 3 format too much.
Therefore, I went back and took Fran’s suggestion and made a square format for the capture, and also darken the right side of the post. I think these changes improve composition and the overall impact.
To Butch’s comment and question about the focus wandering, I primarily used AF focus and sometimes will tweak it manually. The second time I was there when I took this image I did bring my cable release. Thus, I did pre-focus on the top of the pole and wasn’t even looking through my lens. I was tracking the birds with my eye, starting my burst when the one Woodpecker was little ways away in its flight to the post. I have found this technique works well with a repeatable landing spot.
Also, I use rear button focus practically all the time unless the situation specifically calls for shutter button focus. This separates the shooting function from the focusing function and means I can focus on the eye of the bird, and then recompose for composition. Whereas with shutter button focusing when the bird changes position quickly it’s much harder to get the focus correct. The tendency also with focus button focusing is to have center subject compositions, rather than creating more dynamic off-centered subjects. Especially with bird photography, off-center subject placement so much easier with rear button focusing.